ATLANTA (AP) — A diverse crowd gathered on Saturday near the Georgia state Capitol to demand justice for the victims of recent shootings and to denounce racism, xenophobia and misogyny.
Hundreds of people of all ages and varied racial and ethnic backgrounds gathered in Liberty Plaza in Atlanta, and in similar rallies across the country, waving signs and chanting slogans.
In Atlanta, they cheered United States (US) Senator Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, and Georgia state Representative Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House.
“I just wanted to drop by to say to my Asian sisters and brothers, we see you, and, more importantly, we are going to stand with you,” Warnock said to loud cheersas passing drivers honked car horns in support.
Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, is accused of killing four people inside two Atlanta businesses and four others at a location about 50 kilometres away in suburban Cherokee County.
Six of the eight people killed last Tuesday were women of Asian descent. Another person was shot but survived. Investigators have said Long confessed to the slayings but said they weren’t racially motivated. He claimed to have a sex addiction, which caused him to lash out at what he saw as sources of temptation, according to authorities. Police have said they’re still working to establish a motive, including looking into whether the attacks can be classified as hate crimes.
Georgia lawmakers last year passed a hate crimes law allowing additional penalties for certain offences when motivated by a victim’s race, colour, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender or disability.
A hate crime is not a standalone crime under Georgia law, but can be used to add time to a sentence of someone convicted of another crime.
“No matter how you want to spin it, the facts remain the same. This was an attack on the Asian community,” said Nguyen, an advocate for women and communities of colour. She noted the shooter targetted businesses operated by women of Asian descent. “Let’s join hands with our ally community and demand justice for not only these victims but for all victims of white supremacy,” she said.
Similar rallies were held from coast to coast. In San Francisco, hundreds gathered in Portsmouth Square, in the middle of Chinatown, to grieve the victims and to call for an end to racist and sexist violence against Asian Americans. The participants waved signs reading “stop Asian hate”. In Pittsburgh, hundreds also rallied, and videos posted to social media showed former Grey’s Anatomy actress and Golden Globe Award winner Sandra Oh speaking to the crowd.
“I will challenge everyone here, If you see one of our sisters and brothers in need, will you help us?” she said, later yelling into a megaphone: “I am proud to be Asian! I belong here!”
In Chicago, about 300 people gathered and in New York City, hundreds marched from Times Square to Chinatown.