On 16 March 2021, 8 people were killed in a shootout in two different spas in Atlanta and a massage business in Cherokee County. Out of the 8 killed, 7 were women and 6 of them were Asians. These killings come after a marked increase of attacks against the Asian American population in America owing to the coronavirus.
The accused, Robert Aaron Long, a 21 year old white man, was caught by the state police later on the day of the shootings. He confessed to the crimes but denied that the crimes were motivated by race. He said that he committed these crimes due to his sex addiction, and he tried to shoot down what he considered a source of temptation.
On Saturday, huge crowds gathered near the Georgia State Capitol demanding justice for the victims of these shootings and condemned racism, xenophobia and misogyny. There were similar rallies and gatherings throughout the United States, with people chanting slogans and carrying signs that said 'Stop Asian Hate'.
“No matter how you want to spin it, the facts remain the same. This was an attack on the Asian community,” said Georgia state Rep Bee Nguyen who is the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House.
She brought attention to the fact that the killer specifically attacked businesses owned by Asian women, and even travelled across two counties to do so. She urged people to stand united and demand justice for the people killed in these shootouts, and also the many other victims of white supremacy.
Representative Sam Park who's a Democratic member of the Georgia House and the state’s only Korean-American legislator, said that it's impossible to separate the crime from the anti-Asian sentiments and violence that has surged over the past year.
“Regardless of the motive of the perpetrator, we very much feel like this is an attack on our community. Condolences are good. Words of sympathy are great — but actions are necessary.”
Last year, lawmakers in Georgia passed a law allowing additional penalties for offenses that are motivated by a victim's race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender or disability. Although a hate crime is not a standalone crime in Georgia, it can be used to increase the sentence of someone convicted of another crime.
Law enforcement officials are not labeling the killings a hate crime due to the lack of evidence of motivation. However, many political leaders, civil rights activists and national and local elected officials have called this an act of terror driven by bigotry.
Prosecutors in both counties are trying to figure out whether they can invoke the hate crime law to these shootings.
This article has been written by Sherwyn Fernandes for The Paradigm
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