US NEWS

Georgia police officer criticised for "bad day" comments

Jay Baker, spokesman for Cherokee Sheriff's office, is under scrutiny for remarks made following the deadly mass shooting in Atlanta that left eight dead.

Atlanta shooting | Georgia police officer criticised for "bad day" comments
Megan Varner AFP

Jay Baker, a spokesman for the Georgia sheriff's office, has faced widespread criticism for his comments in the wake of the tragic events in Atlanta earlier this week.

On the evening of 16 March, police responded to a series of shootings at spas around the city that left eight dead, including six women of Asian descent. Speaking to reporters in his official capacity after the incident, Baker suggested that the gunman had had "a really bad day".

Many activists and politicians saw the attack as another example of the growing number of violent attacks targeting the Asian-American community, and slammed Baker for seeming to rationalise the perpetrator’s actions.

Who is Jay Baker and why has he come under criticism?

At a press conference on Wednesday, Baker informed the media and those tuning in that a suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, had been arrested and was speaking with police and other cooperating law enforcement agencies.

Baker explained that the 21-year-old was struggling with sex addiction, had frequented these spas, and had committed the acts of violence because “he was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope”.

He went on to say: “Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”

These comments were criticized by many on social media, including Rep. Judy Chu, Chairwomen of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, who tweeted:

“It was a worse day for Delaina Ashely Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Yan, Daoyou Feng, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, and too many others.”

Mr. Baker has come under even greater scrutiny for his press conference appearance after images of a racist t-shirt that blamed China for the covid-19 pandemic were allegedly found on his personal Facebook.

Why do Mr. Baker’s comments concern activists and policymakers?

The increase in violence against the Asian-American community has been documented by the United Nations, who released a report in August 2020 that examined more than 1800 “racist incidents” that took place between March and May 2020.

Furthermore, police in New York reported a “nine-fold increase” in attacks against Asians in their community, while the force in Oakland, California added additional patrols and command posts in Chinatown.

The patterns of violence, the images found on Baker’s Facebook page, and his comments at the press conference have many concerned that the racial element of the Atlanta shootings is not being taken seriously enough.