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

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

President Joe Biden said Wednesday he was briefed by his administration’s top law enforcement officials about the deadly Atlanta-area shooting spree that left eight dead, reportedly including six Asian women.

Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray briefed Biden by phone about the shootings at three spas, which have prompted leaders to condemn a recent surge in violence against Asian Americans.

“The investigation is ongoing and the question of motivation is still to be determined,” Biden said at the start of a virtual meeting with the prime minister of Ireland.

“But whatever the motivation here, I know Asian Americans are very concerned, because as you know I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans, and it’s troubling,” the president said.

Biden said he is awaiting more information from the Department of Justice and the FBI, adding, “I’ll have more to say when the investigation is completed.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier that Biden had been initially briefed overnight about the shootings, and that officials “have been in touch with the mayor’s office and will remain in touch with the FBI.”

Authorities have arrested a suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia. Asked 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.

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,” Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia 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.

Numerous Asian American leaders and activists are poised to testify Thursday 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 Democratic Reps. Doris Matsui and Judy Chu of California, and Grace Meng of New York.

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