Reflections on Racist Atlanta Spa Killings by Dr. Haemin Cho

Mar 18, 2021 | PDA Blog

In solidarity,
Dr. Haemin Cho

Secretary/Co-Chair of Progressive Democrats of America, SF*
Bernie Delegate, 2020*
Former CADEM member, Assembly District 17*
Rose Pak Democratic Club*
(Titles for identification purposes only.)



What the “Atlanta Spa Killings” Tell Us About America Today


Dear Progressive Democrats of America Family & Friends,

Here I sit in my room, devastated and contemplating all that went wrong for this young white man to have gunned down eight people, six of whom were Asian women, four of whom were Korean American women. This man who proclaimed “I love God and guns.”

Sadly, this violence is not new. The level of anti-Asian violence may be increased however it is not different in kind from all the other violence our communities have faced. What’s new is that the President of the United States for the duration of his presidency has been calling the coronavirus pandemic the “Kung Flu” and the “Chinese Virus”. The hatred and racism toward Asian people and immigrants has gone from bad to intolerable. And at the same time, politicians, police officers, even community leaders have been minimizing and ignoring this crisis of racist violence. The model minority myth coupled with xenophobia, coupled with a misunderstanding of the real danger Asian and Pacific Islander people are living with every day.

I want to remind us all that Vincent Chin was beaten to death on the street in Chicago in 1982. The two white male murderers were given a $3000 fine and let go. When Korean shop owners were beaten and our businesses burned down during the LA riots, who spoke up for us then? The hatred and violence toward Asian, South Asian and Pacific Islander people is not new. 

There is a nexus of anti-Asian hatred, hatred of women, conflation of massage therapy and sex work, violence against perceived sex workers, disgusting racism and minimizing by the local white police and sheriffs. There are so many things wrong.

My heart is aching for these women, these sisters, mothers, daughters and wives. My heart is aching for my community, the Korean American community, the massage therapist community, the community of women whose lives are worth less and are more endangered every single day because of our gender. These women were also workers, like so many working class people, trying to earn a living in this dangerous time, performing a vital healing service.

Let me say this to you now, being a woman in this sexist, violent time is an act of courage every day. Being an Asian person in America today is an act of courage. Being an immigrant in America is an act of courage. Being a massage therapist or body worker is an act of courage today. 

Massage therapy is a particular kind of undervalued labor, a treasured and ancient high skill; it is preventative and allopathic medicine. It is a form of medicine that helps millions of people. This work is looked down upon by the ignorant and because of the classism and racism and sexism that is endemic to American culture at this time. These women were front-line workers, wearing masks, trying to help people get out of pain. They did not deserve to die this way.

The attacks on Asian American people is part of a long history of racist violence, sometimes perpetrated by individual murderers, sometimes perpetrated by state violence like the Texas Rangers or the LAPD, sometimes whole communities participated in the lynching and burning of Chinese fishing communities in the late 1800’s as in Santa Cruz and Monterey, CA.

This isn’t just racism. It is also sexism. It is also classism. It is also anti-immigrant. It is also hatred of perceived sex workers. Many Asian immigrants come to the US because of the US imperialist wars in our home countries. Some, like the Hmong, have nowhere else to go but when they arrive they are reviled, bullied, beaten and killed. We cannot decry this killing spree without calling out the historical and political and economic backdrop that made this recent incident possible.

If you believe that this wasn’t racism, imagine what the response would have been from the white, anti-Chinese-t-shirt-wearing-MAGA sheriffs would have been had these six Asian women had been six white women? Two of the people were white. I want to mention this because their lives were also lost because they were in the wrong place, just getting a couple’s massage. They left behind two young children who will never be the same. I mourn all eight people. I pray for the Latino man who was shot three times but seems to be able to survive and is still hospitalized. His little daughter is home likely traumatized by the fear that her father is injured and suffering.

Clearly the targets were Asian women massage therapists because in the eyes of this deeply ignorant, hateful, troubled young white man, massage therapy is the same thing as sex work. Asian massage styles are conflated with sex work by a white male consciousness that cannot distinguish between these two things. By white men who fought in South Korea and Vietnam, and took away a belief that Asian women are all prostitutes, destitute and poor, that we can be maimed and killed with no repercussions.

Clearly, the sheriffs and the local community will not call this out because it is not an individual who perpetrated this heinous killing of innocents. The sheriffs have blood on their racism-minimizing hands. The former president of the United States has blood on his hands. Every single time a public official condones and encourages anti-semitism, racism, sexual violence against women, anti-immigrant sentiment, and hatred of Chinese and Asian people, they are contributing to the bullying, abuse, and killings.


While I appreciate President Biden’s message of condolence, I want to point out that he has just deported 33 Vietnamese people. This issue is an issue of racist immigration policy, of the use of immigrants of color as scapegoats. Irish immigrants are not being targeted. Croatian immigrants are not being targeted. Russian immigrants are not being targeted. Asian and Latinx immigrants are being targeted with hatred and also blamed for the coronavirus pandemic. Ridiculous. Getting rid of Trump from the White House has not solved our racism and xenophobia problem. We need to wake up! America! We are allowing our demagogues to whip up the basest, cruelest kind of racial and sexist violence. We need come together as human beings, learn our true history, and heal across borders, languages, race, gender, sexuality, and faiths.

These are just a few people I want to mention and honor.

Yik Oi Huang “Huang Popo”, an 89-year-old grandmother, died one year after she was brutally beaten and left unconscious in the park, January 7, 2019. She suffered a broken neck, skull, arms and lost teeth. Courageously living on for a year with these injuries, she finally succumbed with her loving family around her. Her murderer was 19 years old.

Visitation Valley, San Francisco, CA

Rest in power Huang Popo.

Vicha Rapanaktandee, an 84-year-old Thai grandfather, died after being brutally pushed to the ground by a 28-year-old man, February 16, 2021. Anza Vista, San Francisco, CA

Rest in power Grandfather Vicha Rapanaktandee.

Pak Ho, a 75-year-old man sustained brain damage and died after a robbery March 12, 2021. Oakland, CA

Rest in power Grandfather Pak Ho.

Yun Geum I, a 26-year-old South Korean sex worker was raped, beaten, a bottle was stuffed into her vagina and an umbrella shoved into her anus. I believe her body was then set on fire. This was October 28, 1992; I was living in South Korea at the time. The murderer was an active duty US serviceman. Due to widespread protests, he was imprisoned for 15 years in a South Korean, rather than a US military prison. The U.S. government compensated the family $72,000. This murderer was released on parole in 2006 and deported to the US. Gyeonggi, South Korea. There are currently 36,000 U.S. servicemen still on active duty in South Korea.

Rest in power Yun Geum I.


Next steps:

DEFUND & DECONSTRUCT – I am not advocating increasing policing. Police violence and the prison industrial complex and ICE detentions have been brutal and fatal in our communities. Often, as in this case, the police and sheriffs are complicit in the anti-Asian sentiment and violence. I stand with the defund campaigns across the country. We need to root out the racism in our police forces and radically shift to community policing and community building. We need classrooms and jobs, not police brutality and prisons.

SOLIDARITY PROTESTS & VIGILS- Our communities need to unite together and heal one another. I am asking that all allies from all our sister and brother communities step up and speak out against Anti-Asian violence. I am calling on my Native American, Black, Latinx, Jewish and white sisters and brothers to step up and speak out.

ETHNIC STUDIES MANDATORY K-College – We need to radically change the history that all our children learn about the history of this nation. Ethnic studies is American Studies. Class, race, gender, sexuality, and religion are all interlocking.



And lastly, I want to share this article. It is a good thumbnail sketch of the racism against Asian and Pacific Islanders in America, but there is so much more to tell.

The long, ugly history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.


  1. linda wan

    thank you for channeling your despair and pain into power for change.

  2. robert moeller

    I am the American husband of a Korean woman , Kim Soo Ok, and am very aware of US anti-Asian history. My wife and I lived in Seoul and the US Northeast. She passed away 23 years ago due to scaring on her heart. I will continue to support, help fight ant–Asian racism.

  3. Constance Garcia Barrio

    I am a Black woman, and I want to support you. What steps should I take?

  4. Bess Hubbard

    Thank you for your witness. I stand with you, and we will know a New Day in America, together.

    • Henry Coleman

      We as a country must protect ALL of our citizens, what happen Atlanta is frightening and must be stopped we must recognize all citizens must be treated as equally love their neighbor NO Exceptions!!!

  5. Danett Abbott-Wicker

    Haemin, this was so moving and terrifying. I don’t know what to say other than I will keep working to try to stop this horrendous racism.