LGBTQ lawmakers denounce Atlanta spa killings: ‘Stop the hate’

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Two LGBTQ Asian American lawmakers joined a diverse array of colleagues at the State Capitol on Thursday to condemn a hate-filled shooting spree in metro Atlanta that left eight people – including six Asian women – dead.

State Rep. Sam Park denounced the “senseless acts of violence” that unfolded early Tuesday evening in Cherokee County and along Piedmont Road in Midtown Atlanta. 

“Now is the time for all of us to come together and unequivocally condemn racism and misogyny, and take meaningful action to protect the vulnerable and prevent these horrific mass shootings from continuing to take place in our country,” Park said. 

“Enough is enough, we must stop the hate and violence,” he added.

Park is one of seven LGBTQ state lawmakers and chair of Gwinnett’s legislative delegation. He was the first gay man and Asian American Democrat elected to the Georgia House.

State Rep. Marvin Lim, a Norcross Democrat and one of two new LGBTQ lawmakers to join the Georgia legislature in January, said he is “heartbroken by this senseless loss.”

“I also urge our country though, in the midst of a year of racial reckoning, to ensure that the narratives and needs of Asian Americans like ourselves, continue to be a part of the conversations we’re having, and long after this tragedy,” Lim said. 

Lim encouraged lawmakers to hold policy discussions about racial equity and tolerance, violence against women, gun and workplace safety, the plight of migrant labor in the service industry and protecting Black, Indigenous and people of color.

“These are just a few of the issues raised by this tragedy from the Asian American Pacific Islander perspective. And I urge us all to honor the victims, their families and the AAPI community as a whole by ensuring that our voices will be heard as we continue to have these conversations,” Lim said. 

State Rep. Marvin Lim said he is ‘heartbroken by this senseless loss.’ (Image courtesy Georgia Public Broadcasting livestream)

‘This would still be a hate crime’

The press conference at the State Capitol on Thursday came two days after Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, allegedly went on a killing spree in three metro Atlanta spas just hours after buying a handgun. He was captured during a police chase and later charged with eight counts of murder and one of aggravated assault.

Law enforcement has stopped short of labeling the rampage a hate crime. Officials with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said the killings were not racially motivated based on their interview with Long.

On Thursday, lawmakers criticized that approach.

“When we think about taking the word of the perpetrator themselves, how many of them are going to admit that it was a racially motivated killing,” asked state Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat and the state’s first Vietnamese American lawmaker.

Nguyen and other lawmakers pointed to a hate crimes law passed last year with bipartisan support before being signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp. Under that law, Long’s rampage is a hate crime, they said.

“If the Cherokee County Police Department finds that there is no racial basis for the killing because they’re taking the perpetrator’s word for it, the perpetrator did say he was targeting these establishments because of a sex addiction. And the correlation is – he was eliminating the sex workers in these places – that is a gender-based crime. And so under the hate crimes law that was passed, this would still be a hate crime,” Nguyen said.

The kilings come at a time when anti-Asian hate crimes spiked in 2020, according to a study of 16 major cities by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism. 

“We’ve experienced a surge in violence and discrimination against Asian Americans this past year, driven by racist political rhetoric and scapegoating,” Park said.

He said the killings underscore the need for “common-sense gun safety reform” in the state.

“We’re still waiting to hear and obtain additional information as to how he was able to so easily acquire a firearm, despite, at least based on what we know, his mental health challenges,” he said. 

“It’s very frustrating that politics continues to prevent us from passing good policy that will keep all of our communities safe,” Park added.

State Sen. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat and one of five Asian-American state lawmakers, pointed to Senate Bill 179, a measure she introduced in February that requires universal background checks for all firearms purchases and transfers. In Georgia, buyers of firearms undergo a background check if the purchase is made from a licensed dealer. Private sales by individuals do not require background checks. 

“It’s hard in this moment to argue against even the most basic of gun safety measures,” Au said. “I am hoping that this moment galvanizes us to at least move forward even in the smallest way towards some safer measures for our community.”

Lawmakers have not taken action on Au’s bill.

The group of about 10 lawmakers was joined at the press conference by officials with Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Georgia NAACP.

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