Pressure grows to label Atlanta shootings as a “hate crime”

March 22, 2021 • 9:00 am

The article below in the New York Times could well have been given the headline, “Georgia lawmakers divided on whether last week’s shootings should be labeled hate crimes.” For indeed, that’s the truth, but the subtle slant of the headline is one of the ways the NYT editorializes the news. (This is a news piece.)

First, let’s review the hate crime provisions, signed into Georgia state law last year (my emphasis):

The hate crimes bill that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed into law on June 26, 2020, imposes additional criminal sentencing guidelines on anyone who commits a “hate” crime intentionally based on race, sex, sexual orientation, color, religion, national origin, mental disability, or physical disability.

Under the new law, a person found guilty of committing a hate crime would face an additional six-to-12 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 for one of five misdemeanor offenses, and at least two years in jail for a felony offense.

This law also specifically requires law enforcement officers to prepare and submit a written report, called a “Bias Crime Report,” when investigating any crimes that appear to be hate crimes, whether or not an arrest is made.

In the case of Robert Aaron Long, who has apparently confessed to eight murders (six of them Asian women), the extra years in jail for a hate crime will hardly matter: if found guilty, which is likely, he’s either going to be executed or spend the rest of his life in jail.

But that’s not the point for those people agitating (“outraged people” as the NBC News said last night) for Long’s crime to be labeled a hate crime.  There are reasons for labeling a crime a “hate crime”, one of which appears to be to penalize someone for targeting a special group that might be terrorized, something that’s presumed not to happen with “nonhate” crimes. Regardless of how you feel about a difference between murders and “hate murders”, the law is the law.

The problem, of course, is that although Long shot six Asian women, there’s no evidence yet that he was targeting Asians. Rather, as he told police, he was trying to get vengeance on spa workers who presumably gave him sex, and happened to be Asians, who make up a large percentage of spa workers. And his motivation was to get rid of the temptation of extramarital sex, which his church (which has now expelled him) forbids. Of course, Long could be lying, and it’s early days. That’s why it’s premature to try to get his crime labeled as a “hate crime”. We must wait.

But people don’t want to wait, as detailed in this NYT piece (click on screenshot). And their premature demands for Long’s crime to be classified as a hate crime says more about ideology than about the facts of the case.

Over and over again, I hear people proclaiming that they know what motivated Long, despite the police statement that we don’t know. And of course the other people don’t know, either. They want a charge that fits that fits their desired narrative. Here’s an example of The Argument from What I Want to Believe:

Law enforcement officials and some legal figures have shied away from labeling the killings a hate crime, saying there is insufficient evidence of motivation. Prosecutors in two separate counties are still weighing whether to invoke the hate crimes law.

But that has not stopped the shootings from resonating as bias crimes for many in Georgia, a state that has been at the forefront of the demographic changes coursing through the South.

“I don’t want to draw any conclusions, but it’s obvious to me that if six victims were Asian women, that was a target,” said Georgia State Representative Calvin Smyre, a longtime Democratic lawmaker who helped shepherd the hate crimes bill through the General Assembly.

But of course he did draw a conclusion. And Smyre is making a false equivalence between a victim and someone targeted by ethnicity, not by their profession. 

Political leaders, especially in Atlanta, have gone much further, characterizing the events as domestic terrorism and, at least in part, motivated by a web of racial and misogynistic intolerance. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Georgia on Friday, casting the shootings in the context of broader abuse and intolerance directed at people of Asian descent.

But absent clear evidence of the shooter’s intent, there is broad division on whether there are sufficient grounds for adding hate crime charges.

Representative Sam Park, a Democratic member of the Georgia House and the state’s only Korean-American legislator, said it is impossible to separate the crime from the anti-Asian bias and violence that has surged over the past year.

“Regardless of the motive of the perpetrator, we very much feel like this is an attack on our community. Condolences are good. Words of sympathy are great — but actions are necessary.”

Here Representative Park asserts that this is prima facie hate crime because a). he knows the motivation and b). “it’s impossible to separate the crime” from anti-Asian bias crimes that occurred last year. Well, a). is premature and b.) is ludicrous. What counts is the motive of the perpetrator, not that of perpetrators of preceding crimes. Nor does it matter how the community feels, much as I sympathize with their anger. What matters—and what NYT editor Dean Baquet said did not matter—is INTENT. And we don’t know that intent. All we have are the statements of the perpetrator and his acquaintances, which don’t point towards anti-Asian bias.

Some other statements. First, a cautious one:

But Byung J. Pak, a Republican, Korean-American and former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, urged caution before linking the killings to a hate crime before the investigation is completed.

“Prejudging the case before the completion of the investigation puts pressure on prosecutors to perhaps file charges which may not hold up in court, or raise expectations that cannot be satisfied,” Mr. Pak said. “I would be cautious designating this crime as a hate crime until the investigation is complete.”

Then one less cautious:

Marvin Lim, a Georgia state representative who was also among Asian-American lawmakers at the meeting with Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris, called for prosecutors to carefully consider using the hate crime statute.

Though officials in Cherokee County claimed that Mr. Long was motivated by sex addiction and not bias against Asians, Mr. Lim pointed out that gender is also protected under the hate crime law.

“Given the facts that we know, and I understand there are more investigations to be completed, I would certainly urge prosecutors to apply it to the extent legally possible,” he said.

As far as I know, Long’s murders could be a gender-bias “hate crime” only insofar as they were intentionally directed at women. This is a judgment call, but it was directed at sex workers, which is like someone shooting killing postal workers because he was mistreated by the post office. It may well be that most of the workers were members of minority groups, but that wouldn’t be the motivation. Disproportionate deaths of one sex or the other (and remember that Long killed a man as well) might not be the direct object of the crime. I’m not a lawyer, though, so we’ll see what happens.

Regardless, the defendant needs and deserves to be treated as an individual, not as a lesson to society or as someone whose crime follows earlier crimes motivated by hatred. Long deserves to be tried oncharges that match his actions and intentions, not somebody else’s ideology.

Let’s face it: even if Long is not executed, if convicted, he’ll never get out of jail, even though one person says in the article that adding “hate crime” to his sentence ensures that he’ll never be released. But he won’t be released anyway. You can’t use the “hate crime” designation that way, either: it needs to be based solely on motivations, not to ensure that someone stays in jail to satisfy your feeling of proper retribution.

The observation that in this case motivation seems to be nearly irrelevant to ideology is a sad commentary on the divisiveness of America. And you can be sure that if the authorities don’t decide that Long’s murders rise to the level of “hate crimes”, there will be a huge outpouring of outrage.

38 thoughts on “Pressure grows to label Atlanta shootings as a “hate crime”

  1. Your observation that sex bias is more likely seems to the point. The killer’s own statement that was getting rid of the “objects” that were stimulating his addiction, sounds like he views women as things that can just be disposed of. The 7th woman was in her 60s and the man was also Korean. Manager & security? Remains to be revealed.

  2. This story is certainly getting more attention than just about anything, even more than the crisis at the border. Certainly much more than the sedition on Jan. 6th. I wonder just how much of a screwball this guy was. Twenty-one years old, living at home with this self proclaimed sexual problem. Did not have a job far as I know and apparently no girl friends? So mom and dad kick his butt out of the house and he goes right down and buys a gun. Going to solve his sexual problems by killing people at massage parlors. How often do you see 21 year old single guys going to massage parlors even for a massage, let alone sex? Is this normal. According to some reports I saw on these massage places, most of the people coming and going into them were middle aged guys. Often they parked further away from the place for some reason. All we know is that mom and dad were glad to help the cops catch him.

  3. “And you can be sure that if the authorities don’t decide that Long’s murders rise to the level of “hate crimes”, there will be a huge outpouring of outrage.” Given the quoted Georgia statute, it seems “hate crime” is an ADDITION TO SENTENCE on the base murder charge. If he is found guilty of murder (and not acquitted by reason of insanity), he will be sentenced for the murders. In other words, the prosecutor can charge a hate crime and leave it up to the jury reach a hate crime verdict as “and also too”. No problem.

    1. Yes, I know that. I said in the post that the “hate crime” charge is an add-on to the sentence. But I don’t think the prosecutors will charge Long with a hate crime unless there’s evidence that he committed one.

  4. Many crimes committed against women are bias crimes. Seems like we should recognize that in our judicial system at some point.

    On a related note, last night my Chinese American daughter admitted to her mother and I that she had been the target of racial slurs post COVID. Just yesterday a stranger at the grocery came up to her and shouted, “why are you wearing a mask? You people gave it to us!” She teared up when she said it happens multiple times a week.

    Anyone not a parent cannot imagine how that feels to know your child is wearing a bullseye because some former sack-of-shit-in-chief stoked up the racism to new heights.

    1. That is awful. If I happened to be present as that happened to my daughter I’d probably do something stupid and end up in jail. Who am I kidding. These days I am so disgusted with that type, even if it weren’t my own daughter I’d probably end up in trouble with the law.

    2. I don’t have children, but I could imagine that would be beyond gut-wrenching. I doubt your daughter will ever forget the discrimination that is being hurled at her, and that is even more of a travesty. Prejudice is always accompanied by ignorance and hate, something America is overflowing with nowadays; Trump’s lasting legacy.

    3. Stupid jerk! And why more of us are needed to call out such bullies if we hear them and/or support those who have been singled out.

      Bystander Intervention and Conflict Resolution courses were very useful in overcoming our own initial shock at such bullying behavior. Practicing scenarios gave me more options than my initial impulse to confront the jerk, and get-in-his-face. But then that would be two people yelling at each other, when it’s people like your daughter who would be better served by hearing a kind word of support right at that moment.

  5. Politicians will grandstand.
    It’ll be up to the prosecution to decide whether to pursue this as a hate crime (and the jury to decide whether he’s guilty of that or not). Virtue signalers are playing a dangerous game here; PR benefit to them now, in exchange for potentially making the prosecutor’s job attaining a conviction harder in the future. Smear campaign! Need change of venue! Excessive charges!

  6. As Jonathon Swift is reputed to have observed: “You can’t reason someone out of a position they were never reasoned into in the first place.”

    Sadly, more and more “positions” today don’t seem to be the product of reason. Emotion rules the day.

  7. Let’s face it: even if Long is not executed, if convicted, he’ll never get out of jail, even though one person says in the article that adding “hate crime” to his sentence ensures that he’ll never be released. But he won’t be released anyway.

    As I read the Georgia statutes and parole guidelines, a defendant convicted of first-degree murder can be sentenced to life without parole if the murder involved aggravating circumstances that would otherwise authorize imposition of the death penalty. An offender sentenced to a regular life sentence in Georgia is eligible for parole after 30 years. (Of course, that doesn’t mean the offender will be paroled after 30 years; it means only that the offender will then be entitled to a hearing before the parole board.)

  8. In California it use to be, any rape/murder was a mandatory life without parole which I thought was a good idea. I was on a jury that convicted a guy of this and it saves the jury and the judge of any additional decisions.

  9. It is a mental relief to find calm, clear thinking on purportedly race-charged issues like this. Thank you Jerry, for this oasis.

    And I have to admit: As a NYT subscriber myself, I had the feeling you were overreacting a bit in cancelling your subscription to the NYT.

    But frankly I’ve found it harder and harder to read recently. The Wokism so permeates story after story, and the “systematic racism..duh!” assumption made in so many articles just sends my facts-craving brain around the bend.

    I don’t plan on cancelling, still too many well done articles of interest. But it’s getting tougher.

    1. I canceled my New Yorker subscription, not the NYT subscription. So far I haven’t found an equivalent of the NYT for news (I also subscribe to the WaPo and WSJ, the latter for news, not opinion), but I found that if you go online and try to cancel your NYT subscription, they give you a last chance to renew for a year at $1 a week: substantially cheaper than a regular subscription. So I did that. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, but I didn’t really want to cancel anyway. I was just seeing if I could get a better deal.

      1. Taking advantage of a good deal, readily available to anyone, means you are a good shopper. And you subscribe so that we don’t have to! 😏

  10. At the risk of being regarded as a right winger or racist,I have to say that I dont support the separate category of a hate crime. Murder is murder and trying to fathom the motivation of the murderer is fruitless. What counts is the actual crime. I also oppose the insanity plea since it is obvious (to me) that anyone who has enough wits to obtain a weapon and plan a crime obviously knows quite well what he is doing. But of course these views will be pounced on by the wokesters/jokesters as proving that I am a deplorable right winger.

    1. Consideration of sanity is a good thing if well applied (which it wouldn’t be in this case). People in a new acute psychosis can be literally insane at the moment of the crime, and in Germany, off they go into a locked guarded mental hospital ward where they are treated. They stay there as long as the doctors think they are still a danger. Those who respond well to treatment and psychoeducation can leave relatively soon but will be closely monitored by psychiatrists and psychologists once back in the community. This usually works well..

    2. I agree with you when it comes to “insanity” as a criminal defense, i.e. ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’. Same about retardation, etc. It doesn’t matter why somebody commits a serious crime. If they’re a threat they should be removed from society. It may affect the type of incarceration but should not affect the determination of guilt or the need for segregation from society.

    3. Under the relevant Georgia statute, in addition to “guilty” or “not guilty” verdicts, juries are authorized in applicable cases to return verdicts finding a defendant “not guilty by reason of insanity at the time of the crime,” “guilty but mentally ill at the time of the crime,” or “guilty but with intellectual disability[.]”

      A defendant found “not guilty by reason of insanity” is committed indefinitely to a secure state mental facility. Defendants in the latter two categories are sent to state prison, but with the option that the Georgia department of corrections can refer the prisoner temporarily to a secure mental facility for evaluation and treatment.

  11. Well , as pointed out, it was a hate crime, a hate crime against women. ‘harlots’ and ‘whores’, whose services this incel used.
    The question is: how much his church, despite reneging him now, is responsible for his distorted view of women? I’d say pretty much so,

    1. I would probably blame the parents more than the church (even though the parents helped with his apprehension). Parents (I would think) are much more influential than the church. Either way, it’s another clear example of how stupid and destructive gun laws are in the U.S., and, as always, how religion poisons everything.

      1. Having just read Robert Putnam’s Our kids, I have to partly disagree with your last clause. Attending a church normally seems to be a stabilizing influence in troubled kids’ lives.

      2. Allowing every breathing human to purchase and own hand guns is the big killer in this country. People can try and justify it all they want but it is the no brainer to me. Hand guns kill more people than any other and that includes suicide where they really excell. They are useless as a hunting weapon unless you are hunting two legged animals and many are. They also kill more people by accident than any other form of gun. People who think having a hand gun for protection is one of the dumber statements. They have been watching too many movies. Every argument made about having or needing all these hand guns is pure BS. I am from a family with a background of hunting and no one used a hand gun for anything. I was also in the military for 4 years although only the Air Force. I got to shoot a gun one time during basic training and that was it. That is how much we needed guns.

        1. My (British) sister, now a USian, has been busy campaigning in Oregon for “safe storage” so that impulsive behaviour, including suicide, is impeded. I suspect that a similar delay between purchasing a gun and using it might have prevented this tragedy. Of course, it might well not have done – from a UK perspective the ability to purchase firearms so easily at all is very weird.

      3. I read that the killer’s father is pastor, perhaps just part time though. So even here responsibilities and motives are not clear. I am not convinced Long was specifically after women. Perhaps it was just spas. After all, Long seems (at this point) to have shot anyone (2 men and 7 women) who appeared in front of him. Consistent with this view is that no one has come forward to tell how they were spared.

    2. He did not go after women in general, just those involved in the sex trade. Perhaps that makes a difference.

  12. Long spent several months living in a halfway house for addicts, and a former roommate at the halfway house, Tyler Bayless, describes him as follows:

    He said Long had been treated for sex addiction and that he frequented massage parlors “for explicitly sexual activity.”

    Bayless said Long was “deeply religious” and would become “very emotionally distraught that he frequented these places.”

    “In the halfway house he would describe several of his sexual addiction ‘relapses’ as he called them. He would have a deep feeling of remorse and shame and say he needed to return to prayer and to return to God,”

    Other people have described his devout religious beliefs and the fact that he carried a bible every day, etc. There’s no evidence he had an anti-Asian bias and some evidence he was struggling with guilt and shame due to a “sex addiction” (or a feeling that he had a sex addition due to his religious beliefs).

  13. Regarding your last sentence, if “he had a sex addition due to his religious beliefs” perhaps he wouldn’t have been so f’d up. I appreciated the ironic typo. Sex is an addition religious beliefs need. 😉

    Joking aside, thanks for the background info. Though I’m still confused as to what “sex addiction” is in this case; he didn’t seem addicted to sex, but rather psychotic about the post coitus guilt. I wonder if sex addiction has ever been used as a murder defense.

    1. Another a”Look what they made me do!” defense? “You-must-die because I-can’t-control-myself” seems slightly insane to me.

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