ATLANTA  — President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris plan to meet with Asian American community leaders in Georgia in the wake of the deadly shootings at three Atlanta-area massage parlors, the White House announced Thursday.

The pair were already scheduled to travel Friday to Atlanta to tout the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, but the trip took on new meaning after the shootings that killed eight people, six of them Asian women. A ninth person was also shot but survived.

The visit also comes amid an intense debate over voter rights in Georgia. Harris is the first vice president of Asian descent.

Authorities have charged Robert Aaron Long, 21, with murder in the worst mass killing in the U.S. in almost two years.

Long told police that Tuesday’s attack was not racially motivated. He claimed to have a sex addiction, and authorities said he apparently lashed out at what he saw as sources of temptation. Police have said they are still working to determine a motive, but Long’s statements spurred outrage and widespread skepticism in the Asian American community, which has increasingly been targeted for violence during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden and Harris will postpone an evening political event in Georgia for a future date, the White House said. During the trip to Atlanta, they will instead meet with Asian American leaders to discuss the ongoing threats against the community, meet with other local leaders and visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for an update on the pandemic.

Also Thursday, Biden directed that flags be flown at half-staff through sunset Monday in honor of the dead.

Lawyer J. Daran Burns issued a statement Thursday saying he had been appointed to represent Long. He offered condolences to victims’ families and said he was working on Long’s behalf “to investigate the facts and circumstances” surrounding the slayings.

Long waived his right to an initial hearing in Cherokee County Magistrate Court on his lawyer’s advice, the statement said.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: