In This Episode
- A White gunman attacked three spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday killing eight people including six women of Asian descent. The shootings happened in the larger context of increasing violence and racism faced by Asian-Americans.
- Yesterday we talked about the surge in migrants seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border. Today, we spoke to Atlantic staff writer Caitlin Dickerson to get a better sense of how we got here, how the Biden administration differs from Trump and Obama, and what’s to come.
- And in headlines: the ADL says 2020 marked a huge surge in White supremacist propaganda, the Movement for Black Lives doesn’t support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and Uber to treat drivers as workers in England.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Thursday, March 18th. I’m Akilah Hughes
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, the podcast that Natalie Portman played for Zach Braff in the iconic movie Garden State.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, they dubbed over it with that song. That’s like do da do do de de do do. But yeah, it’s actually just the WAD show.
Gideon Resnick: This explains our whole Shins beef that we’ve had for so long. We talked to immigration reporter Caitlin Dickerson about the situation at the border and where things go from here, then some headlines.
Akilah Hughes: But first the latest.
[clip of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms] So obviously, whatever the motivation was for this guy, we know that many of the victims, the majority of the victims were Asian. We also know that this is an issue that’s happening across the country. It is unacceptable. It is hateful, and it has to stop.
Akilah Hughes: That was Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaking at a news conference yesterday about the heinous attack on Tuesday night by a white man at three spas in the Atlanta area, which killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent. The shootings come at a moment of increasing harassment and hate crimes against the Asian-American community. But let’s start with what we know right now about the attack and the investigation.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, this is a moving story. We’re reporting at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday night and things could change by the time you hear this, but for now, this is what is confirmed: the gunman, a white 21-year old named Robert Aaron Long, was charged with eight counts of murder on Wednesday and one count of aggravated assault. Police said that all but one of the victims were women. And South Korea’s foreign minister reportedly said that four were of Korean descent. The suspect reportedly claimed to police that he had a, quote “sexual addiction,” that he had gone to the massage parlors before, and that he was, quote “attempting to take out that temptation.”
Akilah Hughes: And throughout the day, there were a lot of questions raised about how the police presented their information on this and whether authorities would say this was a hate crime or not.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. This was definitely a major thing. So there was a bizarre remark that a deputy, Captain Jay Baker, made about the suspect’s, quote “really bad day” leading up to the attacks. What the fuck? is the only response to that. Later there was also reporting that Baker previously promoted an anti-Asian T-shirt on Facebook last year. But The Times reports that investigators are not taking Long at his word about his motivations. But this is still in the early goings. I think it’s also important to point out that the ascribed motive is separate and apart from the terror that this man created for the Atlanta community, women and the AAPI community at large. President Biden said that he had been briefed on the attack by the attorney general and FBI. Here’s what Biden had to say:
[clip of President Biden] The investigation is ongoing and the question of motivation is still to be determined. But whatever the motivation here, I know that Asian-Americans are very, very concerned because, as you know, I’ve been speaking about the brutality against Asian-Americans for the last couple of months. And I think it’s, uh, it is very, very troubling.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So as we mentioned, the bigger context here is increasing violence and racism faced by Asian-Americans recently. And there was a new report about that very thing released the very same day as this attack on Tuesday.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So here’s the rundown. Violence against Asian-Americans has been growing, but especially, and exponentially, in the past year. And while we can’t know for sure, it certainly doesn’t help that America’s leader for the majority of the U.S.’s mishandling of the pandemic, blame China for the virus, calling it several inherently racist things besides COVID-19 that we’re not going to repeat here. But in terms of that report that you mentioned, it was put out by a group called Stop AAPI Hate. They’ve been tracking hate crimes against Asian-Americans and they found almost 3,800 cases of harassment and violence against Asian-Americans have been reported in the past 12 months. Another group that’s been out front on this is the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, also known as NAPAWF. Their executive director, Sung Yeon Chiomorrow, was asked about the shooting and the questions around motivations. She said, quote “If you step back a little bit, pull back the curtains a bit and really understand the history of how this country has perceived and treated Asian-American women, it won’t be a surprise to come to the conclusion that there was some racialized motivation behind what happened.” And if we’re being honest, it’s impossible to claim you haven’t heard stereotypes that sexualized, fetishize, infantilize and further marginalize Asian-women. As a Black person, I can’t pretend that I’m not aware of the model minority stereotype that aims to pit Black people against Asian people as if we’re opposites in terms of achievement, rather than people victimized differently by the same old white supremacy. And the stereotypes also work to erase and make vulnerable those who don’t fit them: these women weren’t affluent, they didn’t necessarily graduate at the top of their class quietly from an Ivy League institution, but their lives matter just as much. And so I guess all of this is to say, pay attention to the ways white supremacy works to divide us, and look out for each other, protect each other, speak up when casual racism occurs. We’re living in a time when accountability is called cancel culture, but hold them accountable anyway. And for white people listening, please use the protection your skin often affords you to look out for the rest of us. None of this is easy, but it is literally life or death.
Gideon Resnick: 1000%. We will include a few links to resources in our show notes about how to get involved or how to just take care of yourself through horrific news events like this. Definitely check them out. And we have an interview that we’re going to get to. The timing was coincidental, but it feels really apt in terms of a larger discussion around America and who feels welcome here and who does not. So yesterday, we talked a little bit about the surge of people arriving at the US-Mexico border, and today we wanted to go a little deeper on that with someone we’ve had on the show before who has been covering immigration for years. Caitlin Dickerson is a staff writer at The Atlantic. Here is our conversation.
Akilah Hughes: Caitlin, thank you so much for joining us again. It’s good to speak with you.
Caitlin Dickerson: Thank you for having me.
Akilah Hughes: Of course. So for context, you know, how does what’s happening right now at the border compare historically? You know, have we seen surges like this in the past? And what’s your sense of why it’s happening now?
Caitlin Dickerson: So we have absolutely seen border surges like this in the past, and in particular surges of unaccompanied minors. The biggest in history was in 2014 when President Obama was in office. And if you remember, the surge seemed to come out of nowhere in that border agents hadn’t really dealt with anything on such a magnitude in the past, and there was a real mad dash to spring up these shelters that were basically soft-sided tent cities to hold children in just because there was nowhere for them to go. And then that problem kind of repeated itself under President Trump, which he certainly wasn’t anticipating. I think the prior administration took this approach where they thought if we are really aggressive, not just with policies, but with rhetoric, that alone will be enough to kind of scare people away from coming into the United States. They obviously also tried other measures, like family separation, to do the same thing and it didn’t work. So you saw in 2019 almost a million people being encountered at the border. So this is not a new phenomenon for border agents, but it is, again, overwhelming just because these numbers tend to fluctuate so dramatically over time, that when the numbers go down, these emergency facilities end up getting closed, and then you’ve got to start all over again when they when they rise again.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, for sure.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Akilah Hughes: And, you know, just sort of to your point, why is it happening again now?
Caitlin Dickerson: So this is always tricky. I mean, it certainly makes sense that given the way that the Trump administration ended—which was that after years and years of trying to really cut back on the number of people who are able to cross the border by chiseling away at asylum and then really kind of really just sealing it shut with the coronavirus pandemic that allowed the administration to really seal the border in the most dramatic way it had been able to do during those four years—it makes sense, right, that a new president comes in and people think that they might have more of an opportunity now to get in than they did in the past year, for example. Political changes certainly do influence border crossings, but so do things like the weather, and so do things like a pandemic where, you know, Central America was very locked down in the early months of the pandemic with very strict regulations. So, you know, depending on where you were, you might get arrested if you were out on the street. You know, there were restrictions on travel within countries, not just across international borders there. So it was very, very difficult to move around. Those restrictions are also lifting. That is probably playing a role. But I think, you know, the problem is that there are large, large numbers of people who need to come to the United States who feel that they need safety and protection. And, you know, I think the Biden administration is trying to address that by saying, let’s send money to Central America, let’s try to stabilize the region. While, also perhaps updating our laws to address the circumstances better so that, you know, perhaps kids who need to come to the United States could apply and come in a way that didn’t require them to sort of risk their lives to make this journey. Like perhaps there’s a visa that should be made available to them, to make the situation a little bit easier and more orderly, to shift the asylum system, to address, you know, the people who actually need that help.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, for sure.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And you mentioned the talk from Biden’s team about sort of long-term conditions and goals, like dealing with climate catastrophe, other external factors in the Northern Triangle —how realistic is that as a long term project?
Caitlin Dickerson: Well, that’s very difficult because any kind of, you know, international infusion of funds that’s, you know, being sent toward addressing these massive and intractable issues: climate change, as you pointed out, government corruption, just public safety in general—these are efforts that have had some success over time. You know, during the Obama administration, even little smaller pilot programs that were carried out before President Trump decided to basically cut all American funding to Central America, having, you know, working with El Salvadoran police, for example, had some success in stabilizing the region. But, of course, this is long term work. And so and the problem is that it’s largely, it’s led, it changes administration to administration. And so just by its very nature, it becomes very difficult to create lasting change in that way. I think, you know, President Biden knows that very well, he basically headed up the Obama administration’s efforts to do just this work. And so I think he’ll try to figure out a way to make these funds and make these efforts last, but, you know, these problems stretch back decades as we know. They’re inextricably linked with American foreign policy. And so they’re going to take just a massive commitment, not just from the president, but I think also from Congress and kind of from the American people perhaps, to make them stick even beyond the next four years.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, absolutely. They seem like almost impossible goals at the moment, given, you know, like the progression of immigration legislation in Congress, historically speaking. And to the point that you were just making: I’m curious, you know, how does the Bush administration policy on immigration overall compare to previous administrations like the Obama-Biden one, for instance? I think that there was some reflection that Democrats had had during Trump and maybe after Trump as well, that—Biden included—that there were some mistakes or different ways that things could have gone during that administration.
Caitlin Dickerson: Mm hmm. I think the biggest difference that you see now with the Biden administration’s approach to immigration is that it’s much more focused on a humanitarian messaging, and much less focused on law enforcement, much less focused on reinforcing this link that’s sort of constantly repeated in political rhetoric, you know, creating this link between criminality and immigration, you know. And it’s almost, it’s frustrating for journalists like me who’ve just written countless times in stories, you know, there’s all this research that shows people born outside the United States who live here, you know, tend to commit crimes at lower rates than American-born citizens. And yet it’s, it has been, you know, the foundation for many restrictions going back throughout history, you know, from the administrations, both Republican and Democrat. And so I think you see the Biden administration almost trying to kind of break that link and just focus less on criminality—which is not to say that, you know, people who commit crimes shouldn’t go through the typical justice system—but that, you know, just challenging this notion that immigrants are somehow predisposed or, because that emphasis kind of, it becomes embedded, you know, in the psyche of the society so that we sort of believe these things to be true even when there’s no foundation for them. And then, and then that ends up being able to sort of justify these very, very harsh restrictions and policies: family separation, you know, forcing people to remain in Mexico. I think, you know, it’s sort of no coincidence that when you hear these ideas repeated over and over again that, you know: these people coming into the United States are probably going to commit crime when they when they get here. That, you know, you can sort of more easily justify in your mind this harsh treatment, even though it’s not backed up by, by fact.
Akilah Hughes: We would be remiss not to bring this next part up., but we’re talking to you at a moment in America where xenophobia, hate crimes and propaganda against people of color has been on the rise. And yet, miraculously, people still want to become U.S. citizens. So does that come up in your reporting and conversations with people, you know, seeking to live here? Do you think that speaks to how bad things must be for them elsewhere to want to come to a place where violence and racism against them is also increasingly likely?
Caitlin Dickerson: I’m really glad you asked that question, and it does, it does come up in my reporting a lot, and the reputation of the United States is just a very powerful thing. I’ve found that, you know, in countries from Guatemala to Romania, it’s a mythology. It’s something that people grow up with that’s passed down through generations. They absorb it on television, you know, in podcasts, on social media, now, more than ever. People really hold on to this idea of the United States—sometimes because it’s their only hope. And then, you know, I’ve had countless conversations with immigrants about what they actually experience when they get here. And then, you know, as we all know and as we’re all talking about a lot today, it’s not just immigrants, but it’s their children, it’s their grandchildren, who are often treated as if they’re immigrants when they’re not, when they’re native born Americans. And so it’s a fundamental sort of complexity fraught in this contradiction that’s built into so much of the reporting that I do. I think that, you know, like the pain of what people are experiencing right now, today, it’s felt across immigrant groups in the United States. And, you know, this feeling of like: should we actually be here? You know, that’s very real. But so is what people are leaving behind, you know, the circumstances that lead people to leave their home countries. And so is that sense of hope that people hold on to very often, you know, for their kids. All these things are true. And it’s, it’s complicated, but it’s a decision, you know—to come to the United States is a decision that a lot of people feel like they have no other choice but to make.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, definitely. And with how dangerous that journey is anyway, I mean, that seems really evident.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Well, Caitlin, thank you so much again for taking the time to talk to us today. Really appreciate it. Yeah.
Caitlin Dickerson: Thank you very much.
Akilah Hughes: That was Atlantic staff writer Caitlin Dickerson. By the way, a quick clarification on something Caitlin said. The 2014 surge was the biggest in history at the time, but then the surge of unaccompanied children in 2019 was even bigger. So that’s the latest. Stay safe and we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: White supremacist propaganda spread at an alarmingly high rate last year. According to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League, there were over 5,000 cases of racist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ, and other hateful messages across physical media like posters, banners, fliers and more. That is double the amount of cases that were reported in 2019. And these reports don’t even begin to cover what can be found online. 2020 marked the highest level of white supremacist propaganda in at least a decade. The phenomenon is so widespread the cases are reported in every single state besides Hawaii. Texas, Washington, California and New Jersey were reported to have some of the highest levels of propaganda. Printed hate is important to track because it helps bolster efforts to recruit people and spread fear to the groups they’re attempting to target.
Akilah Hughes: In a letter to congressional leaders yesterday, the Movement for Black Lives said they do not support the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, which passed in the House earlier this month. The movement, which represents 150 organizations across the country, argued that the bill fails to confront the roots of police violence and does not invest in the marginalized communities affected by it. If passed, the bill would ban chokeholds and qualified immunity, which protects officers from certain lawsuits. Though the movement said it agreed with ending qualified immunity, they urged leaders to instead support the Breathe Act, which aims to change the justice system by getting rid of things like the Drug Enforcement Administration, mandatory minimums, life sentences, and by redirecting funds to underserved communities.
Gideon Resnick: In England, Uber is bravely stepping up and classifying its drivers as workers rather than freelancers. And all it took was six years of courts telling them they had to. Under the company’s new policy, drivers will receive vacation pay, access to a pension plan, and a guaranteed minimum wage during rides. The trade union that first challenge Uber’s old model in England, described the news as a historic win, but that doesn’t mean the country has defeated the gig economy dragon. British Uber drivers still won’t receive sick pay, parental leave, and other benefits. And to understand why that is, you should know that the worker category in England is something we don’t really have in the US. It is a third category that receives more protections than freelancers, but fewer than employees. This is yet another difference between the UK office and the one we know and love. One U.S.-based worker advocacy group said Uber’s new model in England is like the one it adopted last year in California, in which the company hopes to extend to other states. From that organization’s perspective, these models offer a bandaid to help Uber put off more comprehensive changes.
Akilah Hughes: Canada’s youth are facing an even more pernicious threat than Meg and Cardi song about living in a big, sexy Alice in Wonderland House: a Netflix animated movie called Bigfoot Family that says oil can be bad for the environment. That’s the argument being made by conservatives in Alberta, which is home to a large oil and gas industry. Bigfoot Family follows Bigfoot and his fictional human wife and son as they try to stop a company from filling in Alaska Valley with oil. In a press conference last week, Alberta’s Premier, Jason Kenney, took square aim at the movie, describing it as, quote “designed to defame in the most vicious way possible, in the impressionable minds of kids, the largest industry in the province.” Kenney is joined in his anti-Bigfoot efforts by the Canadian Energy Center, a pro-fossil fuel government agency which organized an email campaign for parents that are concerned about how the movie will affect their children’s natural love of oil. Of course, paying all of this attention to a relatively unknown movie has backfired, pushing Bigfoot Family onto the Top 10 Viewed List on Netflix Canada. This is actually bad news for Bigfoot, who is famously very shy.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, you better click on that fast before it disappears. He’ll run away from you.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it might be a little blurry. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you’d like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, fall in love with Zach Braff and fix him or whatever happens in Garden State—I frankly don’t remember, and tell your friends, listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just the script of Bigfoot Family 2, the Tale of Bigfoot’s Human Wife like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Akilah Hughes: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And stay green Netflix Canada!
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. You know, kids don’t even know what oil is.
Gideon Resnick: Show them beautiful forests and leaves, they’ll like that more. I guarantee it.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah.
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.
Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon is our assistant producer.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Katie Long, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.