A United States legislator has called for a “deeper investigation” into whether anti-Asian racism spurred three shootings in the Atlanta area that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.
Senator Tammy Duckworth’s comments on Sunday came after FBI Director Chris Wray told NPR last week that while the probe into the March 16 attacks was underway, “it does not appear that the motive was racially motivated.”
“From where I sit, I want to see a deeper investigation into whether or not these shootings and other similar crimes are racially motivated,” Duckworth, one of only two Asian Americans in the US Senate, said in an interview on CBS programme Face the Nation.
“It looks racially motivated to me,” she said.
The investigation is continuing into the deadly shootings at three separate spas in the Atlanta area, which have fuelled fears in Asian-American communities already experiencing an uptick in harassment and violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When you see racism happening, you have a moral responsibility to your fellow Americans to stand up and speak out.
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) March 21, 2021
Community leaders have said racist rhetoric from politicians, including former President Donald Trump, who called the coronavirus the “China virus”, has contributed to the rise in hate incidents over the past year.
A recent report by the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center documented 3,795 hate incidents aimed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US between March 19, 2020, and February 28 of this year.
Hate crimes against Asian Americans rose by 149 percent in 2020 in 16 major US cities compared with 2019, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
“It looks to me that [the shooter] knew he was going to places where disproportionately the people he shot up would be Asians, and female, and I think the investigators need to really look at these facts,” Representative Ted Lieu, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told CNN last week.
US Senator Raphael Warnock, of Georgia, on Sunday also suggested that racism played a role in the killings.
“We all know hate when we see it,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press programme. “It is tragic that we’ve been visited by this kind of violence yet again.”
Warnock and fellow Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff participated in a rally on Saturday outside the Georgia state capitol building in Atlanta, where hundreds called for an end to anti-Asian hate and for justice for the victims.
Similar protests have taken place in other cities across the country, as well as in Canada.
Meanwhile, Asian-American community groups in Georgia have called for concrete action to address the root causes of violence against the community.
“The Trump administration’s relentless scapegoating of Asians for the pandemic has only exacerbated the impact on Asian business owners and frontline workers and inflamed existing racism,” Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta said in a statement this week.
“The hypersexualization of Asian American women and the broad normalization of violence against women of color, immigrant women, and poor women make Asian American women particularly vulnerable,” it reads.
Asian-American advocates have also denounced a local law enforcement official who told reporters this week that the 21-year-old suspect charged in relation to the killings was having “a really bad day”.
Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Captain Jay Baker is no longer serving as a spokesman for the case.