A Cherokee County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office spokesperson came under fire Wednesday afternoon for pinning the deadly Tuesday shooting rampage that left eight dead—including six Asian women—on a 21-year-old white man’s “really bad day.”
“Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” Jay Baker said during the joint news conference with the Atlanta Police Department about 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long.
But it seems the same spokesperson shared racist content online, including pointing the finger at China for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—the same vitriol advocates say has fueled a horrific surge in violence against Asian Americans.
In a Facebook page associated with Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, several photos show the law enforcer was promoting T-shirts with the slogan “COVID-19 imported virus from CHY-NA.”
“Place your order while they last,” Baker wrote with a smiley face on a March 30 photo that included the racist T-shirts.
“Love my shirt,” Baker wrote in another post in April 2020. “Get yours while they last.'”
The shirts appear to be printed by Deadline Appeal, owned by a former deputy sheriff from Cherokee County, and sold for $22. The store, which promotes fully customizable gear, also appears to print shirts for the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office Honor Guard, a “ceremonial unit, all volunteers, who represent not only the Sheriff's Office but also the county when participating in a variety of events,” according to a March 10 Instagram post.
The photos on Baker’s account were first spotted by a Twitter user.
Multiple photos on the Facebook page show Baker in his uniform and attending sheriff’s department functions, including one with his name tag clearly visible. Baker did not immediately respond to requests for comment on his personal cell phone and to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s office.
When contacted by The Daily Beast, Sheriff Frank Reynolds, who appears to be friends with Baker on Facebook, said he was not familiar with the racist photos.
“I am not aware of that. I will have to contact him, but thank you for bringing that to my attention,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds’ official sheriff’s department page lists as part of his prior experience a 2005 to 2008 stint at the Department of State described entirely in abbreviations: WPPS HTP, IC BWUSA. This would appear to stand for Worldwide Personal Protective Services, a contract the federal government granted the independent contractor Blackwater USA. His campaign page alludes to work in Iraq without naming his employer. But an apparent Reynolds supporter and fellow member of the department shared an image on Facebook of then-candidate’s security clearance so as to dispel rumors that he had a criminal record in 2016. The image, naming Reynolds, showed a contract number corresponding to an indefinite arrangement the State Department inked with Blackwater to provide security guards and control services in 2005.
Blackwater became infamous after its private guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007. There is at present no evidence linking Reynolds to that incident, and he did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The massacre at three Asian massage parlors comes amid a shocking wave of anti-Asian violence in the United States. Authorities say Long, the suspect in the grisly crimes, insisted he was not intentionally targeting people of Asian descent. Still, police—including Baker—said the investigation was ongoing and the murders could still be categorized as a hate crime.
The fact that Long allegedly targeted Asian massage parlors and killed a half-dozen Asian women has spurred uproar online and among community leaders. Nearly 3,800 incidents of anti-Asian hate were reported between March 2020 and last month, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition documenting discrimination during the pandemic.
During a Wednesday news conference, Baker seemed to downplay Long’s alleged actions, telling reporters the 21-year-old attributed the crimes to his “sexual addiction” issues. Baker said Long targeted the spas to “take out that temptation.”
Baker’s adopted brother, Anthony Baker, is a Georgia Superior Court judge—and, according to a profile published in January, was born in Vietnam to a woman there who had married an American soldier.
— with reporting by Maxwell Tani, Noor Ibrahim, and Blake Montgomery