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'Unspeakable Tragedy': Anti-Asian Hate Crime Feared as Gunman Kills 8 in Georgia

"My heart is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives. Once again we see that hate is deadly," said Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Police officers are seen outside a massage parlor where three people were shot and killed on March 16, 2021, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images)

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A 21-year-old white man was taken into custody Tuesday night as the primary suspect in three metro Atlanta massage parlor shootings that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent.

While law enforcement officials have yet to officially determine suspected gunman Robert Aaron Long's motive, advocacy groups and lawmakers feared that the massacre was an anti-Asian hate crime given the establishments targeted and the victims, which also included a white man and woman.

Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group formed to combat rising xenophobia and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, tweeted that "the reported shootings of Asian American women on Tuesday in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy—for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the AAPI community—which has been reeling from high levels of racial discrimination."

"Few details have been released, including whether or not the shootings were related or motivated by hate," the group added. "But right now there is a great deal of fear and pain in the Asian American community that must be addressed."

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported late Tuesday, Long "was first identified as the suspect in the shooting at Young's Asian Massage Parlor in Cherokee County that left four people dead and one person injured... He is also a suspect in two more shootings at similar businesses in northeast Atlanta that resulted in four more deaths, according to a sheriff's office spokesman."

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The deadly shooting spree came amid a backdrop of surging hate-related incidents targeting Asian Americans across the United States. Stop AAPI Hate said (pdf) ahead of Tuesday's shootings that it received nearly 3,800 reports of anti-Asian hate incidents between March 19 of last year and February 28, 2021.

"The number of hate incidents reported to our center represent only a fraction of the number of hate incidents that actually occur," the group stressed, "but it does show how vulnerable Asian Americans are to discrimination, and the types of discrimination they face."

Commentators have linked the recent spike in anti-Asian hate to the rhetoric of right-wing lawmakers and political figures including former President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly called Covid-19 the "China virus" and "kung flu."

In September, 164 House Republicans voted against a resolution condemning anti-Asian discrimination and hate.

Following news of the shooting, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) tweeted, "My heart is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives."

"Once again we see that hate is deadly," the senator added. "Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community."

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