Warnock on Atlanta killings: ‘We know hate when we see it’

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Sen. Raphael Warnock said Thursday morning that the man suspected of killing eight people in attacks on three separate Atlanta-area spas — including six people of Asian descent and seven women — was driven by “hate” to commit the acts of violence.

The comments from the Georgia Democrat come amid an escalating controversy over local law enforcement’s public statements about the alleged shooter’s potential motivation, especially an assessment from a county sheriff’s official that the 21-year-old white male suspect had simply had a “bad day.”

“We will hear, I guess, his explanation in the days ahead,” Warnock said of the suspect Thursday in an interview on MSNBC. “But we know hate when we see it. We’ll get into the nuances of it, but only hate drives you to take eight precious lives in the way that he did.”

The senator added that he was “more interested in hearing the stories of the victims” killed in the attacks Tuesday on Young’s Asian Massage Parlor, Aromatherapy Spa and Gold Spa. “That’s really what we ought to be amplifying, their humanity,” he said.

Georgia law enforcement officials received widespread backlash Wednesday after conducting a news briefing in which they cited the suspect’s assertion that his crimes were not related to race. “It’s still early, but he does claim that it was not racially motivated,” said Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County sheriff’s Office.

Baker told reporters the suspect suffered from “what he considers a sex addiction” and that he viewed the spas as a “temptation” that he “wanted to eliminate.” Further describing the suspect, Baker added: “Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”

Critics denounced those remarks by law enforcement as wildly deferential to the alleged killer, failing to acknowledge the known facts of the case and discounting the well-documented rise in attacks on Asian Americans over the past several months that have coincided with the coronavirus pandemic.

The suspect was charged Wednesday with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in Cherokee County, part of the Atlanta metro area where one of the spas was located. Additional charges are expected to follow related to the two shootings that occurred within the city.

“Whatever the motivation was for this guy, we know that many of the victims, [the] majority of the victims were Asian,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a news conference Wednesday. “We also know that this is an issue that is happening across the country. It is unacceptable. It is hateful. And it has to stop.”

Appearing Wednesday in the Oval Office, President Joe Biden said he had “been speaking about the brutality against Asian-Americans.” He called the trend “troubling” and said he would “have more to say” about the Atlanta killings “when the investigation is completed.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued at her briefing Wednesday that there was “no question” former President Donald Trump — who has repeatedly used offensive terms such as the “China virus” to refer to the pandemic — had contributed to “perceptions of the Asian-American community that are inaccurate, unfair [and] have elevated threats against Asian Americans.”

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