(AP) — A diverse crowd gathered Saturday in a park across from the Georgia state Capitol to demand justice for the victims of shootings at massage businesses days earlier and to denounce racism, xenophobia and misogyny.
The hundreds of people of all ages and varied racial and ethnic backgrounds 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 and against the backdrop of drivers in passing cars honking their horns in support. “We’re all in this thing together.”
Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, is accused of killing four people inside two Atlanta spas and four others at 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 attacks 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.