Asian American lawmakers decry violence following Atlanta spa shootings

State Sen. Michelle Au speaks during a press conference several lawmakers held Thursday at the Georgia Capitol to condemn violence against Asian Americans. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
State Sen. Michelle Au speaks during a press conference several lawmakers held Thursday at the Georgia Capitol to condemn violence against Asian Americans. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A group of Georgia lawmakers on Thursday decried violence against Asian Americans in the wake of this week’s shooting spree at metro Atlanta spas.

Six of the eight victims of the shootings in Atlanta and Cherokee County were women of Asian descent.

A 21-year-old man has been arrested in the shootings. He has told police he frequented the types of businesses targeted in the Tuesday shootings, calling them a “temptation he wanted to eliminate.”

On Thursday, five Asian American lawmakers and others said the shootings were another example of rising violence against Asian Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic. They called for background checks for gun purchases, better mental health services and other steps they say will address such violence and racism.

“What happened in Georgia is not an isolated incident,” Sen. Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville, said during a press conference at the Georgia Capitol. “It’s happening all across America.”

A recent report found more than 3,000 violent incidents in the United States against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year. Rahman attributed the rising violence in part to the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump, who sought to blame the virus on the Chinese government.

“Mr. ex-President, I ask you, stop spreading hate and lashing out at our Asian American brothers and sisters,” Rahman said at the press conference. “Be an American. Be a decent human being.”

The suspect in the case, Robert Aaron Long, told police he did not target the victims because of their race. Lawmakers said Long’s statements about his motivation should not be accepted at face value. And they said he clearly targeted women — telling police he was seeking to eliminate a temptation because of a self-described sex addiction.

Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, said targeting women would make his crime a hate crime under legislation the General Assembly approved last year. But she said the hate-crime law is not preventive. And the lawmakers sought additional laws that would protect vulnerable people.

Among the legislation they cited: House Bill 716, which would require monitoring and investigation of domestic terrorism, and Senate Bill 179, which would require universal background checks for gun sales.

“I think it’s hard in this moment to argue against the most basic of gun safety measures,” said Sen. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek, who sponsored SB 179.

Neither measure has received a vote in the General Assembly.

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