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Does California need a hotline for reporting hate crimes? Just ask Atlanta

Aromatherapy Spa in Atlanta
Law enforcement personnel cordon off an Atlanta spa where a person was fatally shot Tuesday.
(Elijah Nouvelage / AFP/Getty Images)

Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi didn’t need any more evidence in support of his recent bill, AB 557, the one he hopes will create a statewide hotline for victims and witnesses to report hate crimes to the California Department of Justice.

Ever since the pandemic began, there’s been a surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans, rooted in the mistaken belief that they are to blame for the coronavirus. That former President Trump and other elected officials describe it as the “China virus” and “kung flu” has only created more hostility.

On Tuesday, a white gunman shot eight people to death at three Asian spas in Georgia. Six were women of Asian descent.

Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old from Woodstock, Ga., was charged Wednesday with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. Law enforcement agents in Cherokee County said Long confessed to the killings. He told investigators that he suffered from a “sex addiction” and lashed out to rid his world of temptation.

The attacks provoked fear and anger in Asian American communities from coast to coast. The three spas Long targeted all advertised staff of “Asian” and “international” descent.

The Georgia killings are “just the latest example of the difficulty of getting into the mind of the hate crime perpetrator,” Muratsuchi (D-Rolling Hills Estates) said in an interview. “Is it more of a crime against women? Is it a crime against Asians?

“There’s a lot of signs of the intersection of all these different targets of hate when you have this perpetrator going to these Asian massage spas,” the former prosecutor said. “That highlights the difficulty in proving intent.”

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The day of the shootings, the advocacy group Stop AAPI hate released a report showing that nearly 4,000 racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders had been reported during the pandemic. And that’s probably just a fraction of the assaults that occurred, the group said.

“The president of the United States sets the tone and sets the message for all Americans,” Muratsuchi said. “And so that’s why Asian Americans across the country truly welcomed President Biden when he started off his recent [prime-time address to the nation] condemning the spike in anti-Asian crimes…. From the president on down, we all need to raise awareness that this is just flat-out wrong.”

Assembly Bill 557 began life as a modest proposal to simply create brochures for state agencies to give to hate crime victims. Since its introduction Feb. 11, Muratsuchi has broadened its scope. He plans to amend it to include a toll-free hate crimes hotline and an online reporting system to allow victims and witnesses to report incidents anonymously.

Similar hotlines have been created in other states and in California municipalities including San Francisco and Alameda County. Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) plans to co-sponsor the bill. Chiu introduced similar legislation in 2017, but it died in committee.

The hotline is for hate crimes of all kinds, against people of all ethnicities, races, genders, religions and sexual orientations, the assemblymen said.

But the pandemic and the rise in assaults on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders was the catalyst for its creation.

“Over the course of this pandemic, we have seen a horrific uptick in hate crimes targeting our API communities,” Chiu said in a statement in February. “We cannot stand idly by and allow this to continue.”


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