After a week of pain, fear, and mourning, Georgia's capital held a march downtown and a rally Saturday to protest the killing of eight people, six of them Asian women, by a gunman who attacked three Atlanta-area massage businesses.
Hundreds of activists chanted "Stop Asian Hate" as they left Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta heading to the State Capitol, where they will connect with hundreds of others at a rally in the wake of the shootout that left eight people dead.
The roaming demonstration began after a series of performances and is tracked along sidewalks in the city center, past movie sets, and a transit station.
Hopping picket signs and using megaphones, activists shouted messages such as:"Asians are not a virus."
The protest was billed as an event, #StopAsianHate will allow people to "come together to grieve, heal and support."
Around 1:30 p.m., a crowd from Woodruff Park joined hundreds of people gathered at Liberty Plaza, in the shadow of Georgia's Golden Dome.
State Representative Bi Nguyen, the first Vietnamese - American elected to the Georgia legislature, lamented Saturday that the shooting victims "had no one in their community to look after them, and we were left with a deep rage, grief, and sadness." Lawmakers, she said, must pass changes so that such a tragedy never happens again.
Senator Raphael Warnock said:" We need sensible gun reform." He added that stricter laws on hate crimes were needed.
Senator Jon Ossoff echoed those sentiments, adding: "Let's build a state and a nation where you can register to vote on election day, but you can't buy a gun on the day you plan to kill."
The protest comes a day after President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited with leaders of the Asian-American community in a city still reeling from Tuesday's attacks. "We were reminded once again that the crises we face are many, that the enemies we face are many," Ms. Harris said in a speech after the meeting on Friday.
She added: "Racism is real in America, and it always has been. Xenophobia is real in America and always has been. Sexism, too.
Mr. Biden noted that the investigation into the attack is ongoing and that he and Ms. Harris are "regularly updated" by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher A. Wray.
"Whatever the motivation, we know this: too many Asian Americans are walking up and down the streets and worrying, waking up every morning last year, feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones are at risk," Mr. Biden said in his own speech.
The shooting suspect, Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white male, was captured by law enforcement in southern Georgia on Tuesday evening, hours after the attack. Police said he told them he was not motivated by racial animus, but rather by sexual addiction, and that he had targeted massage parlors to eliminate temptation. But the killings, which followed a wave of violence against Asian Americans across the country, were seen by many as an act of racism.
Mr. Long, from the Atlanta suburb of Woodstock, Georgia, remains in custody and has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.
Mr. Long, who is unmarried, was a longtime member of the conservative Baptist Church, which banned sex outside of marriage. He checked into a rehabilitation clinic for self-described sex addiction but continued to struggle. The man, who was his roommate at the halfway house from August 2019 until early 2020, said Mr. Long admitted that he continued to visit massage parlors for sex.
Atlanta police said Mr. Long was a customer at the two spas he later attacked, although it was not clear whether he was looking for anything more than a massage at the two businesses.