US law enforcement officials, including the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), have said that the shootings in Atlanta in which eight people were killed do not appear to have been racially-motivated, but the Georgia senator Raphael Warnock said yesterday: “We all know hate when we see it.”
US Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth has also expressed doubts about FBI Director Christopher Wray’s initial assessment.
“From where I sit, I want to see a deeper investigation into whether or not these shootings and other similar crimes are racially-motivated,” Duckworth, who is one of only two Asian Americans currently serving in the US Senate, told CBS Face the Nation.
“It looks racially-motivated to me,” she said, adding the caveat that she is not a police officer or the one investigating the crimes.
In the US, the term “Asian” generally refer to those of east and southeast Asian descent.
Six women of east Asian descent, another woman and a man were killed on Tuesday, in a shootings at spas in the Atlanta area.
Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white male, was charged with the murders.
He told police that his actions were not racially-motivated.
Speaking to NPR on Thursday, Wray said: “While the motive remains still under investigation at the moment, it does not appear that the motive was racially motivated.”
But such conclusions are rejected by protesters who see a link to rising attacks on Asian Americans in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China, and racially charged rhetoric from former president Donald Trump and others.
Warnock, a Democrat, took office in January as the first African American elected to the US Senate from Georgia.
On Saturday he and his fellow Democratic senator Jon Ossoff spoke to protesters near the state capitol in Atlanta.
“I just wanted to drop by to say to my Asian sisters and brothers, ‘We see you, and, more importantly, we are going to stand with you’,” Warnock said, to cheers.
Yesterday, he told NBC’s Meet the Press: “I think it’s important that we centre the humanity of the victims. I’m hearing a lot about the shooter, but these precious lives that have been lost, they are attached to families.
“They’re connected to people who love them. And so, we need to keep that in mind.
“Law enforcement will go through the work that they need to do, but we all know hate when we see it.
“And it is tragic that we’ve been visited with this kind of violence yet again.”
Warnock also cited a Georgia hate crimes law passed amid outrage over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a young African American man, and which prosecutors may decide to use against Young.
“I’ve long pushed for hate crimes laws here in the state of Georgia,” Warnock said. “It took entirely too long to get one on the books here. But thankfully, we do have that law on the books right now.”
The incidence of hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by 149% in 2020 in 16 major cities compared with 2019, according to the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris visited Atlanta on Friday to offer support to Asian Americans and meet leaders of the community.
Yesterday Biden also highlighted the need to prevent gender-based violence and keep women safe.
The Justice Department has previously said it will be stepping up investigations into hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Duckworth said yesterday that she has written a letter to Wray and Attorney-General Merrick Garland, asking them to take a deeper look “to see how many crimes have actually been under-reported as hate crimes”.
“Many of these crimes go under-reported as hate crimes and are just classified as a mugging or harassment or vandalism when they really were targeted as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in particular,” she said.
A Justice Department spokesman did not have an immediate comment on the letter.
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