Atlanta Shootings May Be Tried as Hate Crime

Georgia approved a strong measure last year, but investigators don't know yet if it applies
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 17, 2021 6:15 PM CDT
Hate Crime Charge May Be Added in Spa Shootings
Mallory Rahman and her daughter Zara Rahman, 4, who live nearby, place flowers outside the Gold Spa massage parlor in Atlanta on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

Legal analysts say Georgia's new hate crimes law could be invoked in the prosection over a series of shootings at spas on Tuesday, the Journal-Constitution reports. Eight people, seven of them women, were killed in the Atlanta-area attacks. Police said Robert Aaron Long told them he has a sex addiction and killed the women to remove temptation. The Georgia law covers crimes tied to biological sex and gender identity, plus race, religion, and national origin, an Anti-Defamation League counsel said. So if the killer shot women because of a sex addiction, David Barkley said, it would be a hate crime. Investigators will look at Long's social media posts and interview people about past statements. "That's all relevant to determining whether his real motivation was to target women," Barkley said. The law requires local police to compile a "bias crime report" in each potential case.

Long told investigators the shootings weren't racially motivated; all but one of the victims is thought to be of Asian descent. Given the recent increase in attacks on Asian Americans, the Korean consulate had asked Gwinnett County police this month for help preventing any hate crimes. BJay Pak, a Korean American former legislator who supported Georgia's hate crime law when it passed last year, said it's stronger than the federal one. Also, it's written in a way that Long's statement about sex addiction "doesn't prevent the prosecution prosecuting this as a hate crime based on gender or race," a law professor said. Atlanta's acting police chief said a decision on the classification has not been made yet, per the New York Times. A hate crime conviction is not required for the death penalty to be imposed in the case, per the Journal-Constitution. Whether the law is invoked or not, Pak said: "Let’s not forget about the context in which the shooting occurred and why it will have such a big impact on Asian Americans in Georgia and nationwide. This shakes us to the core." (Read more hate crime stories.)

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