Biden briefed on Atlanta shootings, Harris expresses solidarity with Asian Americans

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Crime scene tape surrounds Gold Spa after deadly shootings at a massage parlor and two day spas in the Atlanta area, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 16, 2021.
Chris Aluka Berry | Reuters

The nation’s top law enforcement officials will brief President Joe Biden on Wednesday about the deadly Atlanta-area shooting spree, as leaders once again condemn the recent surge in violence against Asian Americans.

White House press Secretary Jen Psaki said Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray will brief Biden over the phone about the shootings at three spas that left eight dead, reportedly including six Asian women.

Biden had also been briefed overnight, and White House officials “have been in touch with the mayor’s office and will remain in touch with the FBI,” Psaki said earlier.

Authorities have arrested a suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia. Asked Wednesday if the attacks were racially motivated, Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said that they asked the suspect that specific question, and that “did not appear to be the motive.”

“We believe that he frequented these places in the past and may have been lashing out,” Reynolds said, adding that Long indicated he may be a sex addict.

However, Reynolds said it’s still early in the investigation.

At the top of a call with Irish leaders Wednesday morning, Vice President Kamala Harris expressed solidarity with the Asian American community.

“It is tragic. Our country, the president and I and all of us, we grieve for those lost. 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,” Harris said.
 
“The investigation is ongoing, we don’t yet know, we’re not yet clear about the motive,” she said. “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.”

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on the Atlanta area shootings before a virtual bilateral meeting with Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House in Washington, DC on March 17, 2021.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor earlier Wednesday that there is “legitimate concern that these killings may have been racially motivated.”

The U.S. has seen skyrocketing reports of incidents against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate said Tuesday that it received 3,795 reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders between March 19, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021.

Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have called on Congress to pass legislation aimed at improving hate-crime reporting and to provide more support to victims.

“I’m heartbroken for the victims of last night’s horrific shootings in Georgia, and for the victims’ families,” Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, said in a statement. 

“While the motive for last night’s terrible violence remains under investigation, I express my love and support for and stand in solidarity with the Asian-American community, which has endured a shocking increase in violence and harassment over the last year,” Ossoff said.

On Thursday morning, numerous Asian American leaders and activists are poised to testify before a House panel on civil rights about the rise in discrimination and violence against their communities amid the pandemic.

The livestreamed hearing before the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties is slated to include testimony from multiple Asian American lawmakers, including Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., the first Thai American woman elected to Congress. The other lawmakers are Reps. Doris Matsui and Judy Chu of California, and Grace Meng of New York.

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