WASHINGTON – With six of the eight victims killed in the recent Atlanta shootings that were found to be of Asian descent, Asian Americans and lawmakers across the country have reported heightened fear of attack on their communities amid the rise in racial attacks.

The question of the motive surrounding the spa shootings has yet to be answered by law enforcement agencies, but it has drawn attention to the definition of hate crimes.

More:Will the Atlanta shootings fuel action against hate crime laws in Asia?

The suspect was arrested and charged with murder and assault after shooting at three spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday. Most of those killed were Asian women. However, according to local law enforcement agencies, the suspect has stated that his alleged actions are not racially motivated.

What is a hate crime?

According to the Justice Department, a hate crime is by definition a motivation based on bias. Propensity can be based on perceived or actual race, skin color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability of a victim.

Laws against hate crime vary by state as to which aspects of a victim’s identity can form the basis of bias, but race and religion are two of the most common in the books.

These crimes are usually violent in nature and can include threats of violence. The FBI notes that hate crimes can be motivated in whole or in part by bias, but that hate alone without the addition of a crime is not illegal.

The FBI says it is “intent on protecting freedom of expression and other civil liberties.”

The Ministry of Justice adds:

“Hate crimes have a broader impact than most other types of crime. Victims of hate crimes are not only the immediate target of the crime, but others like them. Hate crimes affect families, communities, and sometimes the nation as a whole.”

Reports of attacks on Asian Americans have increased in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The Stop AAPI Hate group tracked nearly 3,800 incidents of hatred, discrimination, or attack against Asian Americans from March 2020 to February 2021.

Georgia Hate Criminal Act

The state of Georgia was one of the few states with no hate crime legislation protecting certain groups until last summer after black jogger Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead by armed white men. The law added penalties for crimes motivated by a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender, or disability. The collection of data on hate crimes was also made mandatory.

Arkansas, South Carolina, and Wyoming have no hate crime laws, as do American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands, according to the DOJ.

More:Will the Atlanta shootings fuel action against hate crime laws in Asia?

Legislators have called for national action following the Atlanta shootings. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., The chair of the Asia-Pacific Caucus of Congress, urged the passage of laws that would improve hate crime reporting and create a national day to stand up against anti-Asiatic later this month Expressing hatred.

The attacks are “beyond terrifying,” said Chu, “but they only bring home so many Asian Americans that they are afraid of their lives and their circumstances.”

A House panel will hold a hearing on Thursday to discuss the rise in anti-Asian hatred and discrimination, and the shootings could spark action against new hate crime laws.

Were the Atlanta murders racially motivated?

Despite a motive that has not yet been determined by investigators, Asian Americans across the country have expressed fear and concern following a surge in anti-Asian violence over the past year.

Frank Reynolds, Cherokee County’s sheriff, said Wednesday the suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Georgia, told authorities that his actions were not racially motivated and that he was sexually dependent.

More:The Georgia Spa Shooting suspect attended rehab for sex addiction and felt “merciless remorse” for engaging in sexual acts

The investigation into the motive and other aspects of the crime is ongoing.

While the motive was not racially based, its ramifications have impacted the Asian-American communities in Georgia and across the country, and experts have said it is difficult to separate the murders from the fact that mostly Asian women are targeted were taken.

Given that “Asian American women were viewed in the US mass media as exotic and feminine objects and suspected of prostitution due to the earliest US immigration restrictions,” the suspect Asian American women could easily have the same, according to Chairwoman Grace Kao Way to look at the Sociology Department at Yale University.

More:The Atlanta spa shootings are adding to fear in Asian communities amid increasing violence and hate incidents

“We don’t know the motive yet, but we do know that the Asian-American community is in tremendous pain tonight,” President Joe Biden tweeted on Wednesday. “The recent attacks against the community are un-American. They have to stop.”

Contributor: Nicholas Wu