Sheriff’s official who said spa shooting suspect had ‘bad day’ posted shirts blaming ‘CHY-NA’ for virus
“He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” Cherokee County sheriff’s office Capt. Jay Baker said Wednesday. He was describing the 21-year-old man accused of killing eight people, mostly Asian and almost all women, in a rampage across three Atlanta-area spas.
Then — as the violence stirred fears in an Asian-American community that already felt under attack — Internet sleuths and journalists found Baker’s Facebook posts promoting shirts that called the novel coronavirus an “IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.”
One person’s reaction on Twitter: “I think Capt Jay Baker is going to have a really bad day.”
Baker’s comments and social media history fueled long-running concerns about racism in law enforcement, capping a year in which many warned that phrases like “China virus” were inciting sometimes violent prejudice against Asian Americans. For critics, they undermined trust in authorities’ work on an attack that seemed to many inseparable from the race and gender of its victims, even as authorities say the motive remains unclear. And they downplayed the actions of a White suspect who, according to Baker, may have visited the spas before, claimed to have a “sexual addiction” and said he wanted to eliminate a “temptation.”
Baker is not just any employee of the sheriff’s department, some noted, but its spokesman, who shapes public knowledge of the attacks that unfolded Tuesday in his county and then at two businesses in Atlanta.
“All of us have experienced bad days,” tweeted Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). “But we don’t go to three Asian businesses and shoot up Asian employees.”
Baker, whose Facebook profile is public, did not respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment, nor did Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds.
Reached by the Daily Beast, Reynolds, who is friends with Baker on Facebook, said he did not know about the post.
“I am not aware of that,” Reynolds told the outlet. “I will have to contact him but thank you for bringing that to my attention.”
Baker posted photos of the shirts blaming China for the pandemic in March and April, as Asian American leaders and advocacy groups were already sounding alarms about rhetoric tying the coronavirus to China and Chinese people.
“Covid 19,” the shirt reads in a font resembling the logo of Corona beer. “IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.”
The words echoed those from politicians and especially from former president Donald Trump, who used offensive terms like “kung flu” and went out of his way to use the phrase “Chinese virus.” At one point, a Post photographer snapped a picture of the president’s notes in which “corona” was crossed out.
“It’s racist and it creates xenophobia,” Harvey Dong, a lecturer in Asian American and Asian diaspora studies with the University of California at Berkeley, told The Post at the time. “It’s a very dangerous situation.”
Scientists have cast doubt on speculation that the coronavirus came from a Wuhan laboratory, saying they believe it spread to humans from bats through an intermediary animal.
Stop AAPI Hate, a group that gathered thousands of reports of anti-Asian bias over the past year, has said that many reported incidents involve anti-Chinese rhetoric and specifically language that blames China for the pandemic.
Baker’s posts about the shirts also surfaced after a year of a viral videos, racial justice protests and high-profile killings of Black Americans have raised concerns about racism within police ranks. For some reacting online, the social media posts added to accusations of “White privilege” over the sheriff’s captain’s remarks about Georgia shooting suspect Robert Aaron Long.
“I wonder if these are related …” tweeted writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, who is Vietnamese American, after noting both the shirt photos and the “bad day” phrasing.
Another person on Twitter who criticized Baker’s language urged others to push back on attempts to “justify” Long’s alleged actions.
“I’m so mad about Captain Jay Baker’s comments, I’ve deleted and retyped this post five times,” the person wrote.“