A hate crimes law passed in Georgia amid outrage over the murder of Ahmaud Arbery could get its first major evidence as part of the murder case against a white man accused of shooting and killing six women of Asian descent in business ventures. massages in the Atlanta area this week.
Georgia prosecutors deciding whether to pursue a hate crime enhancement declined to comment. But one said he was “very aware of the feelings of terror that are experienced in the Asian-American community.”
Until last year, Georgia was one of four states without a hate crimes law. But lawmakers moved quickly to pass stalled legislation in June, during national protests over racial violence against black Americans, including the murder of Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was pursued by several white men and shot to death. while running in February 2020..
The new law allows an additional penalty for certain crimes if they are motivated by the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or mental or physical disability.
Gov. Brian Kemp called the new legislation “a powerful step forward,” adding upon enactment: “Georgians protested to demand action and state legislators … rose to the occasion.”
The killings of eight people in Georgia this week have sparked national mourning and a settling of scores with racism and violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. The attack also drew attention to the interplay of racism and misogyny, including hypersexualized representations of Asian women in American culture.
Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been charged with the murder of six women of Asian descent and two other people. He told police the attacks on two spas in Atlanta and a massage business near suburban Woodstock were not racially motivated. He claimed to have a sex addiction.
Asian American lawmakers, activists and academics argued that the race and gender of the victims were central to the attack.
“To think that someone targeted three Asian-owned businesses that were run by Asian American women … and didn’t have race or gender in mind is just absurd,” said Grace Pai, organizing director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago. .
Elaine Kim, emeritus professor of Asian American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said: “I think it is likely that the killer had not only a sex addiction, but also fantasies about Asian women as sex objects.”
Such sentiments were echoed Saturday when a diverse crowd of hundreds gathered in a park in front of the Georgia state capitol to demand justice for the victims of the shootings.
Speakers included US Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and Georgia State Representative Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American in the Georgia House of Representatives.
“I just wanted to stop by to tell my Asian brothers and sisters, we see you and most importantly, we are going to be with you,” Warnock said to great cheers. “We are all in this together”.
Bernard Dong, a 24-year-old student from China at Georgia Tech, said he had come to the protest to demand rights not only for Asians but for all minorities.
“Many times Asians are too quiet, but times change,” he said, adding that he was “angry and disgusted” by the shootings and violence against Asians, minorities and women.
Otis Wilson, a 38-year-old photographer, said that people should pay attention to discrimination against people of Asian descent.
“We went through this last year with the black community, and we are not the only ones who went through this,” he said.
Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will decide whether to continue improving hate crimes.
Wallace said he could not answer specific questions, but said he was “well aware of the feelings of terror that are experienced in the Asian American community.” A representative for Willis did not respond to requests for comment.
The U.S. Department of Justice could bring federal hate crime charges regardless of state prosecutions. Federal investigators have found no evidence to show that Long targeted the victims because of their race, two unidentified officials told the Associated Press.
A Georgia State University law professor Tanya Washington said it was important that the new hate crime law be used.
“Unless we test it with cases like this, we will not have a body of laws on how to prove that the bias motivated the behavior,” he said.
Since someone convicted of multiple murders is unlikely to be released from prison, it could be argued that it is not worth the effort, time, and expense to pursue a hate crime designation that carries a relatively small additional penalty. But Republican State Representative Chuck Efstration, who sponsored the hate crimes bill, said it wasn’t just about punishment.
“It is important that the law call things what they are,” he said. “It is important to the victims and it is important to society.”
State Sen. Michelle Au, a Democrat, said the law needed to be used to enforce it.
Au believes there has been resistance across the country to accuse attacks on Asian Americans as hate crimes because they are seen as “model minorities”, a stereotype that they are hard-working, educated and free from social problems. He said he had heard from many voters in the past year that Asian Americans, and people of Chinese descent in particular, were suffering prejudice because the coronavirus emerged in China and Donald Trump used racial terms to describe it.
“People feel like they are being gassed because they see it happening every day,” he said. “They feel very clearly that it is racially motivated, but it is not linked or labeled that way. And people feel frustrated by this lack of visibility and by ignoring that aspect ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism