- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2021

President Biden and Democratic lawmakers across the country seized on Tuesday’s horrific shooting spree in Atlanta massage parlors to call out anti-Asian racism, and some blamed former President Donald Trump for inciting hate crimes even though investigators said the killings weren’t racially motivated.

Robert Aaron Long, 21, was charged Wednesday with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. Investigators say he shot up three Atlanta-area massage parlors and killed eight people: six Asian women, a White man and a White woman.

Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office told reporters that Mr. Long said the attacks were “not racially motivated.”

Police theorize that Mr. Long targeted the businesses in retaliation for “sexual addiction.”

“It’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Capt. Baker said.

Authorities have not labeled the attack a hate crime. They said it is too early in the investigation to do.

SEE ALSO: Joe Biden on Georgia shooting suspect: ‘The question of motivation is still to be determined’

Nevertheless, Democrats quickly accused Mr. Trump and other Republicans of fanning hatred toward Asians with rhetoric about the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with references such as the “China virus” and “kung flu.”

Regardless of the shooter’s motivation, Democrats said, they are alarmed by an uptick in violence against Asian Americans.

“I would encourage members of Congress who continue to use that type of hateful rhetoric — cut it out because you also have blood on your hands,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

Rep. Judy Chu, California Democrat, said Mr. Trump “clearly stoked the flames of xenophobia.”

Mr. Biden stressed that a motive had not been established in the Atlanta killings but added that he has been speaking out against attacks on Asian Americans for months.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki went a step further. She said Mr. Trump’s comments fueled discrimination against Asian Americans.

“I think there is no question that some of the damaging rhetoric that we saw during the prior administration calling COVID the ‘Wuhan virus’ or other things led to perceptions of the Asian American community that are inaccurate, unfair, have … elevated threats against Asian Americans, and we are seeing that around the country,” she told reporters at the White House.

As press secretary in the Trump White House last year, Kayleigh McEnany defended the use of those terms. She said it’s not offensive to note that the virus came from China.

Margaret Huang, president and the CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, blasted Capt. Baker for saying the attacks didn’t appear to be racially motivated before the investigation was compete.

“I think [Capt. Baker’s] comments displayed an incredible — either ignorance or deliberate — attempt to drive a different narrative about what caused the violence yesterday. There’s no question that regardless of what the perpetrator claims — or his motivations — that he targeted Asian-owned businesses,” Ms. Huang said in an interview with The Hill.

“He targeted places where Asian women are primarily the workers,” she said.

In January, Mr. Biden signed an executive order aimed at reducing xenophobia toward Asian Americans by directing the Health and Human Service and Justice departments to prevent harassment against such communities.

House Democrats planned to delve into hate crimes against Asian Americans at a hearing Thursday. Several Asian American leaders and activists will testify before the Judiciary Committee about discrimination and violence directed at their community since the pandemic began.

A study released this month by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, revealed that hate crimes targeting Asians rose nearly 150% in 2020, though the raw numbers aren’t large — 49 to 122 — for a country of 330 million people with an Asian community of close to 20 million.

The number surged last year while the overall hate crime number dropped by 7%.

The study showed that anti-Asian hate crimes increased in major cities across the country. Anti-Asian attacks in New York jumped from three in 2019 to 28 in 2020, Boston reported an increase from six to 14, and Los Angeles numbers rose from seven to 15.

The spike in anti-Asian hate crimes began in March and April when the coronavirus first appeared in the U.S. and spread across the country, the report concluded.

Stop AAPI Hate, a group that advocates against violence toward Asians and Pacific Islanders, say those numbers underestimate the amount of violence against Asians. The group said Tuesday that it received 3,795 reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from March 19, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021.

On Wednesday, police departments in New York and Washington announced that they would deploy more officers to Asian neighborhoods out of an abundance of caution.

The departments also acknowledged that there was not a specific response to “credible threats” against the Asian community.

• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this article.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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