Democrats said Sunday that the shootings last week at spas in and around Atlanta, which left eight people dead, six of whom were Asian American, were hate crimes that demanded federal charges.
“We all know hate when we see it,” Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding, “It is tragic that we’ve been visited by this kind of violence yet again.”
The shootings stirred up increased fear and anger in Asian American communities at a time when anti-Asian American hate incidents have spiked during the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats, local officials and community advocates have pushed law enforcement agencies to characterize the killings as a hate crime, saying race cannot be ignored as a motive.
Speaking in Atlanta last week, President Joe Biden said many Asian Americans have “been attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed” in recent months, adding, “Silence is complicity.”
Robert Aaron Long, 21, a white man, was charged with eight counts of murder and homicide and one count of aggravated assault. Authorities have alleged that he said the attacks were not racially motivated, because, he is alleged to have told investigators, he has a “sex addiction” and he saw the spas as “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.”
Investigators had yet to find concrete evidence that would be enough to build a federal hate crime case against Long, several law enforcement officials said.
“My heart breaks for the eight victims, and as I read more about them, I see that they were hard-working, many were mothers, one was as old as 74 years old, and yes, I do strongly believe this is a hate crime,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said on ABC’s “This Week.” “This is a 21-year-old white male who chose as his first victim a business that was called ‘Young’s Asian Massage,’ then he drove for 27 miles to another spot where he hit two more Asian spas.
“If his only problem was sex addiction, then he could’ve had his choice in those 27 miles of any place that he could’ve gone to,” she said. “But no, he specifically went to those Asian spas where it was clear in all three places there would be many Asian women, and, indeed, those were the majority of those that were shot and killed.”
Chu said she knows there is a “high” legal bar for hate crimes charges.
“But I would say, look, these were places where people spoke another language — they may not have heard him,” she said. “They may be dead. But in my mind and in the minds of many, this is an anti-Asian hate crime.”
In his interview, Warnock said the incident is cause to renew efforts to pass gun reforms nationwide.
“This shooter was able to kill all of these folks the same day he purchased a firearm,” he said. “But right now, what is our Legislature doing? They’re busy under the Gold Dome here in Georgia trying to prevent people from being able to vote the same day they register.
“I think that suggests a distortion in values where you can buy a gun and create this much carnage and violence on the same day, but if you want to exercise your right to vote as an American citizen, the same Legislature that should be focused on this is busy erecting barriers to that constitutional right,” he said.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on “This Week” that his agency is “very focused on the increase in hate crimes targeting the Asian American, Pacific Islander community and many other groups.”
“We are very focused on domestic violence extremism,” he said. “It is the single greatest terrorism related threat that we face in our homeland.”
Allan Smith is a political reporter for NBC News.