Spa shooter’s motive in question as Georgia lawmakers console Asian Americans

By: - March 17, 2021 11:51 am

Sen. Sheikh Rahman, a Lawrenceville, Georgia, Democrat who is a Bangladeshi American, led a moment of silence in the Georgia Senate Wednesday. He urged his colleagues to push back against anti-Asian-American sentiments. (Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder)

Investigators say it is too soon for them to say whether the shootings at metro Atlanta massage parlors that have shocked the nation were racially motivated.

The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Georgia, has told investigators that he killed eight people — mostly women of Asian descent — because he has a sexual addiction and that he targeted the businesses because he saw them as “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” according to Capt. Jay Baker with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators said Wednesday that Long he said was on his way to attack other parlors in Florida when he was stopped in Crisp County in south Georgia.

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said Wednesday that it was too early in the investigation to say whether the attacks amount to a hate crime. Georgia passed a hate crimes law just last year.

“Even though we have made an arrest, there is still a lot more work to be done,” Bryant said at a press conference held Wednesday morning in Atlanta.

But the Tuesday afternoon slayings have unnerved the Asian American community, which has been increasingly targeted during a pandemic that President Donald Trump and others have tried to brand the “China Virus.” And the killings are sending spasms of grief and drawing condemnations of violence across the country and around the world.

Vice President Kamala Harris offered her condolences to the victims’ families Wednesday morning from her ceremonial office.

“It is tragic. Our country, the president and I and all of us, we grieve for those lost,” Harris said. “Our prayers are with the families of those who have been killed. This speaks to a larger issue which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it. The investigation is ongoing, we don’t yet know, we’re not yet clear about the motive. But I do want to say to our Asian American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people.”

State Sen. Sheikh Rahman, a Lawrenceville Democrat who is a Bangladeshi American, urged his colleagues to push back against anti-Asian American sentiments.

“These malicious crimes are taking place in our own backyards,” Rahman said. “We must come together and stand up against xenophobia and any hate crimes committed against Asian Americans or anyone in our communities.”

“I’m horrified, outraged and devastated by this violence and deeply concerned for the members of the Asian American community in Georgia and across the country,” he said. “Hate must not have a home in America or anywhere.”

Just one day before the shootings, Georgia state Sen. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat who is Chinese American, sounded the alarm about the rise in violence against Asian Americans, calling it “a new chapter in a very old story.”

Au said in a statement Wednesday that it is too soon in the investigation to know what motivated the shootings. But she called on others to reach to Asian Americans in a show of support and solidarity.

“Our AAPI community has been living in fear this past year in the shadow of escalating racial discrimination and attacks,” Au said in a statement Wednesday. “This latest series of murders only heightens that terror.”

Both Georgia legislative chambers held a moment of silence for the victims Wednesday.

“As a society, we cannot tolerate this lawlessness,” said House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican. “Only evil can walk into a small business and wantonly gun down innocent people. There will be plenty of opportunities to determine motive and all the circumstances surrounding these hideous crimes. Our justice system will work, but today is a day for remembering.”

Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat, said in the last year that hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased by 150%, and of those hate crimes, 68% of them were directed towards Asian American women.

She said the recent spike can be attributed to people blaming COVID-19 on China. But she said it’s also part of a long history of abuse including Japanese internment, the Chinese Exclusion Act and mistreatment of Chinese rail workers.

“We have been taught as Asian Americans to keep our heads down because our parents believed it was safer for us, but what’s happened is that we are now invisible, and when things happen to us, people don’t speak up until a tragedy like this one occurs. Invisibility that hasn’t shielded us from hate crimes and xenophobia or gender-based violence, and we saw all of this intersections happening yesterday,” Nguyen said.

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