The racist overtones of the Atlanta shooter’s “really bad day”

Robert Aaron Long

Robert Aaron Long confessed to shooting eight people in the Atlanta area on Tuesday. Captain Jay Baker, spokesperson for the Cherokee County sheriff’s office, said he had a “really bad day.” Is this how we now describe white people committing mass shootings?

What Capt. Baker actually said

In this space, I evaluate people’s actual words and word choices. So let’s get a look at what Captain Baker actually said at the press conference, in full context.

Reporter: You stated that, so from the suspect was perhaps upset at these locations for allowing him to have an outlet for his addiction [to sex workers]. Can you elaborate on that?

Capt. Baker: Yeah. Let me go into a little bit of detail. So the suspect did take responsibility for the shootings. He said that early on once we began the interviews with him. He claims that these, and as the chief said, this is still early, but he does claim that it was not racially motivated. He apparently has an issue, what he considers sex addiction and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places, and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate. Like I said, it’s still early on, but those were comments that he made. . . .

Reporter: Sheriff, did you have a sense that he understood the gravity of what he did?

Capt. Baker: When I spoke to the investigators, they interviewed him this morning and they got that impression, that, yes, he understood the gravity of it. And he was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. And yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.

Who’s racist in this story?

Since nearly all of the people shot were Asian, there are plenty of questions about racism here.

First, was the shooter Long racist? He says his violence was not directed based on race.

Of course, what we have here is a person who feels his own problems with sex addiction justify murdering people. If you can shoot a bunch of people because of your own problems, you clearly don’t see those people as full human beings. Long shot those people because he doesn’t see Asian sex workers as human. That’s pretty clearly racist.

Was Captain Baker racist?

You do have to wonder whether he would have said the shooter “had a bad day” if a Black man had shot up a school, or a Hispanic man had shot up a church full of white people.

Describing a white person who killed a bunch of Asians with the words “yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did” demonstrates a breathtaking level of racial insensitivity.

It demonstrates a strong desire to understand, and excuse, a racist hate crime based on the subject’s momentary mental state.

That’s a different kind of racism — not violent, but still part of the matrix of beliefs that in the wake of a racist assault, we need to concentrate early on understanding the motivations of white people who commit violence.

While the violence that has occurred at protests by Black people against police bias is orders of magnitude less horrific than this mass shooting, police spend very little time on the motivations of the protestors and far more energy on the crimes they believe have been committed. The implication is, Black people commit crimes, while violent white people have mental problems.

If you’re looking for another illustration of racism in police attitudes, you just got a very high profile example.

17 responses to “The racist overtones of the Atlanta shooter’s “really bad day”

  1. This isn’t the first time that a mass killer was described, by a sympathizer, as “having a bad day.” Remember Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber? His attorney, Judy Clarke, famously said, “None of us, not any one of us, wants to be defined by the worst day or the worst hour or the worst moment of our lives.”

  2. Agree – spot on. I wonder if the police chief saw this breakdown if he would realize that his words are racist.

  3. “Long shot those people because he doesn’t see Asian sex workers as human. That’s pretty clearly racist.”
    “Clearly? Not at all. You’d need to prove, or at least share evidence, that if the sex workers had been white, he would have spared them.

    1. I can’t prove that to you. But I think when one person sees another group of people as not fully human, and the group is all of the same racial background, there’s a pretty good chance that race helped them make that sick judgment.

      If he thought “these people are like me,” he wouldn’t have been able to shoot them.

      1. He could very well see all sex workers as not human. Anybody working in the industry can tell you how they are not taken serious when they become the victim of a crime. I think you made a leap here.

        Secondly, about the “bad day”, when I first read this I took this more as him stating what Long said, not him necessarily making excuses, but it can be interpreted either way so on that I have really no idea how this should be taken.

  4. I disagree.

    I’m glad you printed the transcript, which is Baker’s attempt to recap Long’s statement.

    The only fault I find is that he opened himself up to the social justice warriors who see everything, especially law enforcement, through a first, second or third derivative identity lens.

    1. Look at it for a moment from the perspective of people of color interacting with police, who are now saying that a white person who shoots them “had a really bad day.”

      Yes, it was an ill-considered choice of words. But in this environment, how are those people going to see this?

      The police could have a little more sensitivity when there eight dead bodies, including six Asian women, because of this guy’s “bad day.”

    2. I’m Jewish. If the police told me a guy who shot up a synagogue said he “had a really bad day,” I’d be livid.

      Imagine that you’re Irish and a guy comes into the Irish American club on St. Patrick’s day and kills 8 people. Then the sheriff explains that he said he had a really bad day. Might you find that a little insensitive?

      The point isn’t that he was just repeating what the shooter said. It’s that sharing that minimizes the pain of the victims.

  5. Look at it through the lens of an American caste system where the white male is supposed to be at the top. When he’s not, he finds a way to “solve” it.

    1. Yep. That’s the main theme of Dying from Whiteness. It’s also a subtheme of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (2020), which the New York Times called “An instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far.”

      1. Sorry, not Dying “from” Whiteness: “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland.”

  6. I think you have it wrong.

    I’m not saying that Chief Baker is not a racist, especially in light of the recent discovery of one of his Facebook postings. What I am saying is that I don’t believe that what he said during the March 17 press conference was racist. His words are also not “how we now describe white people committing mass shootings”, to answer your question.

    I believe it’s important when analyzing extemporaneous speech to analyze how it is said and not just what is said. Oftentimes people not having a chance to prepare a speech or edit it before it’s given will choose and use words that they wouldn’t have if they’d the opportunity to prepare the speech.

    Listen to Baker’s words at – https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/sheriff-s-office-regret-any-heartache-bad-day-comment-after-n1261447

    It’s clear to me that Baker is relating the opinions of investigators who had interviewed the suspect that morning, not anything he received firsthand from Long. I believe he’s just trying to pass along to the reporters – in the middle of a tragic and tense situation – details which he feels answer some of the questions they must have as to what happened. I don’t feel he’s excusing or dismissing Long’s actions in any way by mentioning that Long had a “bad day.” It’s just a brief description of what he thinks investigators believe was Long’s mental state at the time he (is alleged to have) committed the mass murders. Not a good choice of words, for sure, but words Baker may well have used – my guess – had the suspect been Black, or Latino or …

    Nowadays anytime an incident includes a racial component, there will likely be charges of racism quickly thrown around. It seems to be especially true when the police are involved. Unfortunately, too often it has been shown that police do act with racial motivation. But it doesn’t mean that all police act with racist motivation all the time.

    I believe that Chief Baker’s speech, which certainly used “ill considered” words, was not racist.

  7. Josh, so now you’ve joined the ranks of the “Race chasers” ???? Everything is racist, particularly those who call out racism . . . they’re the worst racist. Next worst racist are white people calling out all other white people to apologize for their whiteness. Sheesh.

    A once-upon-a-time highly skilled, recommendable journalist now turn race chaser.

    🙁
    this is a bad day for journalism.

    [BTW: released earlier today, the deposition of the shooter confessed race had nothing to do with it. . . making all those calling this “racial” to be purveyors of “Fake News.” ]

    1. Sorry, I’m not buying your argument, which seems quite confused.

      I have no idea what that first paragraph means. You seem twisted around the axle.

      The deposition of a man who shot 7 Asians that “race has nothing do with it” isn’t particularly convincing. If they were all black in a black church, or all Jewish in a Jewish synagogue, or all Irish in an Irish American club, we wouldn’t take his word for it that “race has nothing to do with it.”

      He went to a place he knew would be full of Asians and shot them. I can’t get into his head. But if a man shoots a bunch of people of the same race in a place where he knew there would be a bunch of people of the same race, that’s about as close to racist as you can get.

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