Democrats on Wednesday spoke forcefully about Tuesday’s deadly shootings in Atlanta and said it’s clear that the individuals who were shot are among the most vulnerable in the US: women of Asian descent.
Authorities have said the man suspected of killing eight people in three separate shootings at spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday has allegedly admitted to the killings and blamed his “addiction to sex” as the motive. It’s unclear if race was a motivating factor, according to authorities.
“[T]he investigation is ongoing and the question of motivation is still to be determined. But whatever the motivation here, I know Asian-America are very — they are very concerned, because as you know I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple of months and it is very, very troublesome,” President Joe Biden said from the Oval Office on Wednesday.
Democrats have zeroed in on the race of the victims amid a recent increase in anti-Asian attacks. An advocacy group that tracks hate incidents, Stop AAPI Hate, said it has received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents across the country since March 2020, suggesting a significant increase from previous years. AAPI stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which is the fastest growing racial group in the US.
“President Trump clearly stoked the flames of xenophobia against AAPIs with his rhetoric,” Rep. Judy Chu, a Democrat from California, told reporters during a press conference Wednesday.
Chu cited Trump’s use of racist language like “Kung-flu” and “China virus” when he spoke about COVID-19 throughout the course of the last year as a catalyst for the uptick in violent hate crimes.
“As a result, the anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents increased exponentially,” Chu said, adding that despite outreach to the Trump administration, Trump “doubled down, he and his followers, [and] actually used those terms even more.”
“And what we saw yesterday, is the result of that,” Chu said, although the investigation is ongoing. In 2009, Chu became the first Chinese American woman to serve in Congress. She currently chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).
Vice President Kamala Harris also weighed in on the violent incidents from the White House on Wednesday.
“It is tragic. Our country, the president and I, and all of us, we grieve for the loss. Our prayers are extended to the families of those who have been killed. It speaks to a larger issue which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it,” Harris said.
“The investigation is ongoing. We don’t yet know, we’re not yet clear about the motive. But I do want to say to our Asian American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people, but knowing the increasing level of hate crimes against our Asian American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge that none of us should ever be silent in the face of any form of hate,” Harris added.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries had a stern warning for some members of Congress who could be further fanning the flames with racist rhetoric.
“To members of Congress who continue to use that type of hateful rhetoric: Cut it out — because you also have blood on your hands,” Jeffries said.
Sen. Jon Ossoff, a Democrat from Georgia, said in a statement that he stands in solidarity with the Asian American community and noted the motive is still under investigation.
“While the motive for last night’s terrible violence remains under investigation, I express my love and support for and stand in solidarity with the Asian-American community, which has endured a shocking increase in violence and harassment over the last year,” Ossoff said.
His Georgian counterpart in the Senate, Raphael Warnock, told reporters Wednesday that even if the suspect said he wasn’t motivated by race, “anybody who takes precious lives in that manner is driven by hate.”
“I grieve the loss of these precious lives. This kind of violence happens too often in America,” the Democrat said. “We weep with those who weep. But we have to do everything we can in terms of addressing bigotry and hate in our country.”
Chu noted that the alleged shooter in Tuesday night’s massacre went to a spa called “Young’s Asian Massage,” which could give an indication as to his motive.
“The fact that he went to that one with that title, gives you a clue as to what he was thinking,” Chu said.
“The AAPI community has been living in fear of verbal and physical attacks, and now we’re experiencing increasingly deadly tropes of racism and violence. We call on Georgia officials to ensure that the families of the victims are well supported, and our followers to support local efforts that provide community protection and victim support, and we express our deepest condolences to the friends and families of these victims,” she said.
Chu said CAPAC has met with the Department of Justice to discuss ways to stop hate crimes against the AAPI community. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will also hold a hearing about the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans.
Chu said House Democrats are also calling for a national day to speak out against AAPI hate on March 26.
ABC News’ Molly Nagle contributed to this report.