Investigators still haven't found evidence the Atlanta shootings were racially motivated

Yesterday NBC News published a story titled “No evidence yet of federal hate crime in Atlanta-area spa killings, officials say.” That’s clearly disappointing to a lot of people who are convinced this crime was the peak of the recent wave of attacks on Asian Americans. But as NBC explains, there’s just no evidence to support that so far.

Federal and local law enforcement investigators have yet to find concrete evidence that would be enough to build a federal hate crime case against the man accused of killing eight people at three Atlanta area spas, several law enforcement officials told NBC News…

The first step in assessing a potential hate crime is for the local U.S. Attorney to direct the Atlanta office of the FBI to open a preliminary investigation into the matter, the officials said.

So far, no directive has been given, the officials said, because after probing electronic devices and conducting interviews, investigators have seen no evidence leading in that direction. Hate crime charges could be filed later if evidence supporting a prosecution is found.

So they’ve looked through his phone and his computer and so far that’s not indicating the motive here was racist. The FBI won’t get involved unless that changes. However, Georgia passed a state hate crime law last year that could be used to add an enhancement to the murder charges. But so far, that hasn’t happened either. As the NY Times points out, there’s a gulf between the statements being made by politicians and activists and those coming from police:

Political leaders, civil rights activists, and national and local elected officials condemned last week’s attack as an act of bigoted terror, drawing a connection between the majority-Asian victims and a recent surge in hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.

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…

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.

The divide between the evidence as it exists so far and how people feel is summed up in this statement from Sam Park a member of the Georgia House of Representatives: “Regardless of the motive of the perpetrator, we very much feel like this is an attack on our community.”

But a Korean-American who is a former U.S. Attorney in Georgia points out that’s not how this works.  Byung J. Pak told the Times, “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.” He added, “I would be cautious designating this crime as a hate crime until the investigation is complete.”

I get that people are legitimately angry and even scared after this attack. And as I’ve said before, I don’t think the shooter deserves any leniency at all. If there’s evidence of a racial motive that could up his sentence, by all means use it. But what has happened so far is that we’re demanding police act as if this was a hate crime without any clear evidence it was.

Two of the eight people killed in this attack were apparently white. If hate crime charges are added in this case, would they only apply to the six Asian victims? Maybe there’s evidence the other two victims were bystanders. Again, if that’s where the evidence leads then fine. But the charges should follow the evidence not how people feel about the crime regardless of the evidence.