WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday addressed the spa shootings in Atlanta that left eight people dead, saying he understands the concern among Asian Americans as investigators work to determine a motive.
"Whatever the motivation here, I know Asian Americans, they are very concerned, because as you know I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans, and it's troubling," Biden said.
Biden said that he had spoken on the phone Wednesday with the attorney general and the FBI director and that a motive for the shootings was still being determined.
A gunman shot and killed eight people at three massage spa parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday night, and six of the victims were women of Asian decent. Cherokee County sheriff's Capt. Jay Baker said that after a brief manhunt, Robert Aaron Long, 21, was arrested and later confessed to the attack.
Baker said in a news conference Wednesday that Long claimed that the attack was not racially motivated. Baker said that Long told investigators that he had a "sex addiction" and that he saw the spas as "a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate." Law enforcement officials said Long was believed to have previously visited the spas he targeted.
Anti-Asian hate incidents have dramatically increased during the pandemic, with a disproportionate number of attacks directed at women.
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In a prime-time speech last week marking one year of Covid-19 shutdowns, Biden condemned "vicious" hate crimes against Asian Americans who he said were "attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated" for the pandemic.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden was continuing to monitor developments on the investigation as law enforcement works to determine a motivation, but they were aware of the increase in attacks against Asian Americans.
"I think there’s no question that some of the damaging rhetoric that we saw during the prior administration calling Covid the 'Wuhan virus' or other things led to perceptions of the Asian American community that are inaccurate and unfair, and has elevated threats," Psaki said.
Vice President Kamala Harris cautioned Wednesday morning that "the investigation is ongoing."
"We don't yet know — we're not yet clear — about the motive," Harris said. "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."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that answers were "urgently needed" to determine whether the attack was a hate crime.
"These shootings are a vicious and vile act that compound the fear and pain that Asian-Americans face each day. It is a profound and cruel injustice that, amid the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis, the AAPI community also faces the surging threat of violent and deadly attack," Pelosi said in a statement.
The White House said Biden was briefed on the shooting overnight and was briefed over the phone Wednesday morning by Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray. Administration officials have also been in touch with the Atlanta mayor’s office, the White House said.
Biden and Harris announced last week they would travel to Atlanta on Friday as part of their "Help is Here" tour promoting the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill. Details of their trip is not yet known.