The Latest: Georgia Asian American lawmakers call for change

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ATLANTA (AP) – The Latest on the shootings at three Atlanta-area massage parlors where eight people were killed (all times local):

4:25 pm.

Several Georgia Democratic lawmakers of Asian descent held a press conference at the state Capitol to denounce crimes against members of the Asian community, including the recent killings at Atlanta-area massage parlors.

State Rep. Sam Park said Asian Americans over the past year have experienced a “surge” in attacks due to “racist political rhetoric and scapegoating.”

“Now is the time for all of us to come together, unequivocally condemn racism and misogyny, and take meaningful action to protect the vulnerable and prevent these horrific mass shootings from continuing to take place in our country,” Park said Thursday.

State Sen. Michelle Au had warned of a rise in attacks on Asian Americans in a speech on the state Senate floor Monday, a day before the spa shootings killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.

On Thursday, Au called for enhanced gun safety legislation, better data collection about crimes against minority communities and increased awareness of discrimination against women and people of Asian descent.

“These problems we’re facing right now are not new,” Au said, referring to misogyny, anti-Asian discrimination and gun violence. “What can be new is how we deal with it in this moment, and I want to implore our community and our fellow legislators to not let this moment go by.”

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3:55 p.m.

A Georgia sheriff on Thursday expressed regret after there was widespread outrage over comments his spokesman made a day earlier, including a statement that the 21-year-old man accused of killing eight people in Atlanta-area massage parlors had had a “bad day.”

Authorities have charged Robert Aaron Long with eight counts of murder.

Long told police that Tuesday’s attack was not racially motivated. He claimed to have a sex addiction, and authorities said he apparently lashed out at what he saw as sources of temptation. Police have said they are still working to determine a motive. But Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Jay Baker drew criticism for saying during a news conference Wednesday that Long had had “a really bad day” and “this is what he did.”

Sheriff Frank Reynolds released a statement Thursday acknowledging that some of Baker’s comments stirred “much debate and anger” and said the agency regrets any “heartache” caused by his words.

“In as much as his words were taken or construed as insensitive or inappropriate, they were not intended to disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect,” Reynolds said in the statement, adding that Baker “had a difficult task before him, and this was one of the hardest in his 28 years in law enforcement.”

The sheriff’s statement did not address a 2020 Facebook post that appeared to have been written by Baker promoting a T-shirt with racist language about China and the coronavirus. Baker has not commented on the post, which was taken down Wednesday.

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3:25 p.m.

Atlanta police say “nothing is off the table” in their investigation into the recent massage parlor slayings, including whether the killings were a hate crime.

Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. said during a news conference Thursday that investigators believe 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long had visited the two Atlanta massage parlors where four women of Asian descent were killed.

“Our investigation is looking at everything so nothing is off the table for our investigation,” Hampton said.

Four other victims were killed at a spa in suburban Cherokee County shortly before the Atlanta attacks.

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2:35 p.m.

The White House says President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris plan to meet with Asian American community leaders in Georgia in the wake of this week’s deadly shootings at three Atlanta-area massage parlors.

The pair were already scheduled to travel Friday to Atlanta to tout the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, but the trip took on new meaning after the shootings.

The visit also comes amid intense debate over voter rights in Georgia.

Authorities have charged 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long with murder in the deaths of eight people, six of them women of Asian descent.

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