The hundreds of people who gathered in Liberty Plaza in Atlanta waved signs and cheered for speakers, including U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House.
“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 loud cheers. “We’re all in this thing together.”
Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, is accused of killing four people at two Atlanta spas and four others inside a massage business about 30 miles (50 kilometers) away in suburban Cherokee County. Six of the eight people killed on Tuesday were women of Asian descent. Another person also was shot but survived.
Investigators have said Long confessed to the slayings but said they weren’t racially motivated. He claimed to have a sex addiction, which caused him to lash out at what he saw as sources of temptation, according to authorities. Police have said they’re still working to establish a motive, including looking into whether the killings can be classified as hate crimes.
Georgia lawmakers last year passed a hate crimes law that allows additional penalties to be imposed for certain offenses when motivated by a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender or disability. A hate crime is not a standalone crime under the law, but it can be used to add time to a sentence once someone is convicted of another crime.
Bernard Dong, a 24-year-old student from China at Georgia Tech, said he came out to the protest to demand rights not just for Asians but for all minorities. “Many times Asian people are too silent, but times change,” he said.
Dong said he was “angry and disgusted” about the shootings, and the violence that persists in 2021 against Asians, minorities and women.
Otis Wilson, a 38-year-old photographer who’s Black, said people need to pay attention to the discrimination those of Asian descent face. “We went through this last year with the Black community, and we’re not the only ones who go through this,” he said.