By David M. Greenwald
Atlanta, GA – Fani Willis, the Fulton County District Attorney, announced that her office will seek the death penalty against Robert Long, who is accused of killing eight people during a shooting spree at three spas in the Atlanta area in March.
“I along with my staff, have made the determination that this office will seek the death penalty,” Willis said at a news conference on Tuesday. She also announced that they would seek a sentence enhancement, “commonly known as ‘George’s hate crime enhancement’ based on the race and gender of the victims.
“This is the first time that the statute has been used in Fulton County and it is my belief in the state,” she explained.
She indicated that Long attacked four of the women at the two massage parlors in Fulton County due to their race, national origin, sex and gender. The women were all Korean-American. He drove to the Atlanta businesses after killing four at another spa in Cherokee County.
“Last year I told the voters of Fulton County that I could not imagine a circumstance where I would seek it,” Willis said. “At that time I did not. Unfortunately, a case has arisen in the first few months of my term that I believe warrants the ultimate penalty—and we shall seek it.”
Willis said the sentence enhancement, based on bias and prejudice of the alleged perpetrator, will “send a message that everyone in this community is valued. We are all equal before the law—whether a victim or a defendant. This office will work tirelessly everyday to uphold that ideal.
“The message we want to send is lady justice in this community is blind. If you harm any member of our community, you are going to be held accountable,” she said, adding that she wanted to send a message to victims that “it does not matter your ethnicity, it does not matter what side of the tracks you come from, it does not matter your wealth, you will be treated as an individual with value.”
The charges come even though police announced immediately after the killings that Long had denied targeting the victims due to their race. He claimed, instead, that he struggled with a “sex addiction.”
Police indicated that he was a customer at two of the businesses he targeted, though they declined to discuss if he went there seeking sex.
Willis said that she has personally reviewed the statement made by Long in this case and has personally walked the crime scene.
“I am comfortable with the decision that this is an appropriate sentence to seek,” she said.
Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition addressing anti-Asian racism across the U.S., has been tracking hate crimes against the AAPI community across the country.
The group said in a statement, “As our hearts still ache from the tragic Atlanta Spa Shootings, in which six Asian American women were murdered, we acknowledge the importance of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ decision to seek hate crime charges against Robert Aaron Long based on the actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender of the four women killed in the two Fulton County spas.“
Just last week a report found that there was more than a 164 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crime reports to police in the first quarter of 2021 in 16 major cities compared to last year, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
More than 6,600 hate incidents have been reported in the year after the pandemic began in the United States, Stop AAPI Hate announced last week.
They said this week, “While hate towards all AAPIs persists, women continue to report at a disproportionate rate (64.8%) to our center. This trend is in no small part due to the combination of racism and misogyny Asian American women experience.”
In reports shared with Stop AAPI Hate, “women describe their experiences of simultaneously facing sexual harassment and racism — showcasing how COVID-19 is being weaponized as part of sexual harassment.”
The group said, “We encourage all those looking for solutions to the rise in hate towards the AAPI community to take into account the intersectional hate those within our community are facing—particularly the hate against Asian American women, low-wage and essential workers, and other communities of color.”
They added, “A holistic approach is necessary to combat the white supremacy and structural racism that are generating and perpetuating hate. Investing in community-based organizations that are responding to discrimination, as well as in public safety systems that are structured to not only support survivors of violence but also to prevent further violence, are critical first steps.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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