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Authorities: It Is Too Early To Say If Atlanta Killings Are Hate Crimes

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The man who confessed to killing eight people in the Atlanta area will be arraigned today on murder charges. Six of the victims killed were women of Asian descent. Now, authorities say he told them he had a sex addiction, that he had previously visited some of those spas. He also told investigators that the killings were not racially motivated. Officials say it's too early to determine if this was a hate crime.

Lisa Hagen of member station WABE in Atlanta joins us now with more. Lisa, what more do we know about this investigation so far?

LISA HAGEN, BYLINE: So we know that the suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, was captured with a 9 mm handgun in his car. Investigators say he was driving to Florida after the shootings in the Atlanta area because he wanted to commit more violence. What we're seeing here is plenty of shock, anger and frustration about what happened, not just in Asian American neighborhoods but in many communities of color. People are angry about what happened.

Last night at one of the shooting sites, Gold Spa in Atlanta, people were showing up with flowers and signs. Among them was Kat Bagger. She was holding a sign that said Black and Asian solidarity.

KAT BAGGER: So I think we can really use our platform as Black people to push for the Asian community and support them in the way that we need to. I came out tonight 'cause this is - I mean, this is the next day, and this is as sore as it gets.

HAGEN: Bagger says she's frustrated police aren't calling the incident racist violence.

MARTINEZ: The suspect is white. Most of the people killed were women of Asian descent. Those facts alone raise suspicions of a hate crime. So do we know why law enforcement is not calling this racially motivated?

HAGEN: Well, authorities say they've asked the suspect about this exact thing, and he denies that there's a racial motivation. But that's been a tough sell here. Both Atlanta Police and Cherokee County sheriff's department are investigating the shootings. But Cherokee law enforcement officials' decision to focus on the suspect's narrative has been widely criticized, including Cherokee County Sheriff's Captain Jay Baker. A Facebook page that appeared to belong to Captain Baker promoted a T-shirt with racist language about China and the coronavirus last year. And as we've said, there's anger about that. Many people in the Asian American community feel like they were targeted in these shootings. And some of them even said, you know, white supremacy is, quote, "literally killing us." And we've already heard there are going to be demonstrations this weekend.

MARTINEZ: That's Lisa Hagen of member station WABE in Atlanta. Lisa, thanks a lot.

HAGEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.