In a press conference on Wednesday discussing the attacks at three spas in the metro Atlanta area that killed six Asian women and two others, Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said that the horrific violence was the result of a “really bad day” for the 21-year-old white suspect.
“Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” Baker said, during a joint conference with the Atlanta Police Department about the attacks. The comment drew an outpouring of criticism, as people castigated the spokesperson for supposed sympathy toward a man now charged with eight counts of murder. Also widely criticized was Baker’s decision to broadcast the suspect’s apparent motive — that he was a “sex addict” bent on some sort of revenge — while law enforcement otherwise declined to say what might have motivated the attack, such as racism.
Later on Wednesday, two reports from BuzzFeed News and the Daily Beast revealed Baker posted racist statements online himself. In April 2020, he shared an image of T-shirts riffing on the Corona beer label saying “COVID-19 IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.” In another post, Baker said “Love my shirt … Get yours while they last.”
Baker shared the shirts on at least two occasions in posts that have since been taken down. According to the Daily Beast, the shirts appear to have been printed by a company that is owned by a former Cherokee County deputy sheriff.
While Baker played up the accused killer’s self-proclaimed motivation to “take out” a sexual “temptation” by slaughtering innocent people, Asian American academics told the Washington Post that these sentiments are consistent with stereotypes toward Asian women that are common in the United States. “The shooter said it wasn’t racially motivated, but on the other hand, he’s going specifically to these spas where Asian women work precisely to serve the sexual fantasies of white males,” said Stanford professor David Palumbo-Liu. “So to disentangle them is really to do a disservice to the fact that these things are so linked together.”
On Thursday, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office’s told CNN that Baker was no longer the spokesperson on the case. In a statement, Sheriff Frank Reynolds said that the captain’s comments “were not intended [to] disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect.”