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The shootings at a spa may be the first time Georgia’s hate crimes legislation is put to the test.

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The shootings at a spa may be the first time Georgia's hate crimes legislation is put to the test.
The shootings at a spa may be the first time Georgia's hate crimes legislation is put to the test.

The shootings at a spa may be the first time Georgia’s hate crimes legislation is put to the test.

 

The murder trial of a white man accused of shooting and killing six Asian women and two other people at massage parlors in Atlanta this week may be the first major test of Georgia’s current hate crimes legislation.

Robert Aaron Long, 21, claimed to have a sex addiction and told police that the assaults on two spas in Atlanta and another massage business near suburban Woodstock on Tuesday were not racially motivated.
Authorities said he seemed to lash out at sources of temptation, but they were still looking into his motivation.

Since the majority of the victims were Asian women, there is skepticism of that explanation and calls for hate crime charges, especially within the Asian American community, which has seen an increase in attacks since the coronavirus pandemic began.

However, like many other states, Georgia’s law passed last summer does not establish a separate hate crime, instead providing for a secondary punishment if an individual is convicted of another crime.

“It’s not anything for which you’d be prosecuted.
Pete Skandalakis, a former prosecutor and executive director of the Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council, described it as a “sentence enhancer.”

According to the law, if a crime is motivated by a victim’s race, colour, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or mental or physical disability, an additional penalty may be levied.
The pandemic had largely halted court proceedings well before the law passed during the national reckoning about racial inequality, but Skandalakis said he doesn’t think the rule has been used yet.

A accusation of hate crime may be used in an indictment or applied later before the trial.
Prosecutors may provide evidence for a hate crime sentencing enhancement if a jury convicts the defendant of the underlying crime.
The jury then deliberates again, with the defense attorneys presenting their own facts.
A statutory enhancement of at least two years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000 for a conviction is imposed if jurors deem it to be a hate crime.

The federal government and several states go even further by enacting legislation that make bias-motivated violence illegal without requiring a criminal conviction.

The US Department of Justice can decide to file federal hate crime charges in addition to state charges.
According to two law enforcement officials who talked to The Associated Press, federal authorities have yet to find evidence that Long pursued the victims because of their ethnicity.
Officials with direct knowledge of the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not able to talk publicly about it.

In Georgia, a murder conviction brings a mandatory minimum term of life in jail, with or without the possibility of parole after 30 years.
If the killing meets those conditions, prosecutors may seek the death penalty.

Long is charged with eight counts of murder, and it will be up to Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to determine if the hate crime enhancement can be sought.

Wallace said in a statement that she is “acutely aware of the feelings of fear being encountered in the Asian-American community” but that she can’t address detailed questions about the case.
Willis’ spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Given that anyone convicted of multiple murders is unlikely to be released from jail, it could be argued that pursuing a hate crime classification that carries a comparatively minor added punishment isn’t worth the effort, time, and money.

But the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Chuck Efstration, said it’s not just about the fines.

He said, “It is important that the law calls things what they are.”
“It’s important for victims, and it’s important for society,” says the author.

And, according to state Senator Michelle Au, a Democrat who is Chinese American, the legislation needs to be used to give it teeth.

Since Asian Americans are seen as “model minorities,” a stereotype that they are hardworking, educated, and free of social problems, Au claims there has been some reluctance to prosecute attacks against them as hate crimes across the country.
She said she heard from many constituents in the last year that Asian Americans — and people of Chinese descent in particular — were suffering from bias because the coronavirus had emerged in China and then-President Donald Trump used racial terms to describe it.

“People think they are being duped because they see it every day,” she explained.
“They obviously believe it is politically motivated, but it isn’t branded or pegged as such.
People are disappointed by the lack of visibility and the fact that that part is being overlooked.”

According to Georgia State University law professor Tanya Washington, the new law should be used for legal purposes in addition to sending a message to the nation.
Although police have indicated that it is too early to decide if the spa shootings were a hate crime, she believes the violence was obviously motivated by racism given the individuals and businesses attacked.

“We won’t have a body of law on how to show prejudice caused the conduct until we test it in cases like this one,” she said.

According to Washington, the Georgia legislation also requires law enforcement to collect and disclose data on hate crimes investigated by them, which allows for monitoring and proper resource distribution.

When lawmakers rapidly passed a hate crimes law last year in the aftermath of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and nationwide demonstrations against racial discrimination and police violence, Georgia was one of only four states without one.
In February 2020, Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was pursued and fatally shot while escaping near coastal Brunswick.
Since footage of the murder surfaced months later, three white men were charged with murder.

In 2004, Georgia’s Supreme Court declared an earlier hate crimes law unconstitutional because it was too broad.

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Charlie Baker insists vaccine verification system is not a pathway to mandates

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Charlie Baker insists vaccine verification system is not a pathway to mandates

Gov. Charlie Baker wants everyone to know he does not support a vaccine mandate statewide — “period.”

His unequivocal stance comes after he went on radio and said a digital vaccine verification system may soon be coming to Massachusetts. The floodgates opened and he was hit with a barrage of questions about how and why it will be implemented.

Baker emphasized that he has “never supported or agreed to any sort of statewide vaccine mandate program” several times, and added that he doesn’t plan to in the future. He explained that the mandate is only in place for people who “want to go to a wedding or to a church, or to a restaurant where proof of vaccination is required,” he said.

“This isn’t about creating a mandate or a statewide initiative of any kind, we just want to make sure that people have the ability, if they’ve been vaccinated and want to have proof that they’ve been vaccinated, that they can easily download it onto their phone and use it whenever they need to,” Baker said.

Baker also didn’t weigh in on the broader use of the technology, which he said will be rolled out “soon,” throughout an unnamed city, for example. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has recently hinted that she’s considering a “vaccine passport” system similar to the one in New York City, which requires patrons to show their vaccination status before entering venues like gyms, theaters and restaurants.

“We said from the very beginning of the pandemic that we’re going to pursue one set of rules that we consider to be important at the state level, but we’re going to give locals a lot of latitude with respect to how they want to play it at the local level,” Baker said, making no mention of Boston or Wu.

Though the governor touted the ease of verification availability on people’s smartphones, even as the ACLU of Massachusetts has raised concerns.

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Charlie Baker attends groundbreaking at Norwood Hospital, damaged by 2020 flood

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Charlie Baker attends groundbreaking at Norwood Hospital, damaged by 2020 flood

Gov. Charlie Baker attended a groundbreaking ceremony in Norwood to mark the start of construction on a new hospital in the town after the old one was damaged in a June 2020 flood.

“There will be a beautiful new hospital here and this hospital will continue to provide care and service to this community for at least another 100 years,” Baker said. “But that wipeout that took place that day, that was another profound example of how you can’t always predict what every day is going to be like.”

Norwood Town Manager Tony Mazzucco said emergency rescuers evacuated over 100 people from the hospital that night during the pandemic and the storm without any injuries to patients or first responders.

The hospital is set to reopen in 2024.

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Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom relishes his citizenship

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Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom relishes his citizenship

A day after officially becoming a United States citizen, and the morning after his on-air chat with Fox’s Tucker Carlson, the self-renamed Enes Kanter Freedom felt like the embodiment of the first amendment.

His outspoken attacks on China — the nation with a heavy commercial connection to the NBA — and American cronies like Nike and his own league, span the network spectrum. He’s also been interviewed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and MSNBC.

But as on opening night, when Freedom says he refused a request by two NBA representatives to not wear his Free Tibet sneakers, he claims to not be breaking any league rules.

“I had a conversation with Adam — Adam Silver — and I told Adam, ‘Listen, am I breaking any rules?’ And he said no,” said Freedom, who has since worn an expanding list of protest sneakers. I told him, I was like, ‘If there’s any rules that I’m breaking or I’m violating, let me know. I’ll be the first one to follow.’ And he said, ‘No, you’re not violating any rules.’ And I was like, ‘Adam — you’re guys are the ones that are telling us and encouraging players to stand up for what’s right, not just the problems in America, but all over the world. So you guys are the ones that encouraged me to talk about all the violations that are happening all over the world, right?’ And he was like, ‘Listen, you have the freedom to say whatever you want.’ And I was like, ‘I appreciate that.’

Freedom admittedly had periods of frustration, including when he started the season out of Ime Udoka’s rotation. His tweet — “Keep limiting me on the court, I will expose you off the court” — was generally interpreted as an insinuation that his playing time was linked to his political stances and activism.

Kanter sat down to discuss the tweet with Udoka, and was told that his lack of minutes had everything to do with playing behind Al Horford and Robert Williams, and nothing to do with Tibet’s freedom.

“And after that talk, I’ve played every game,” said Freedom. “I mean, yeah, that’s how I felt, and I put it out there, and coach Ime came to me and said that’s not the situation. And I said, ‘OK.’ And after that talk, I pretty much played every game.”

With Rob Williams expected to play Wednesday night, there could be another minutes shift, though Freedom’s bulk will be needed against Joel Embiid. But regardless of how much he plays, Freedom will continue pushing the issue.

Freedom said he would like to talk with LeBron James, an outspoken social advocate who has always remained silent about his commercial partner, China. Freedom would at least like to bring clarity to his ongoing beef with the Lakers star.

“Sure, I’d love to sit down and talk to him. I’m sure it’s going to be a very uncomfortable conversation for him,” said Freedom. “I don’t know if he’s gonna want that. I’ll make that really comfortable for him. I don’t know if he’s educated enough but I’m here to educate him and I’m here to help him, because it’s not about money. It’s about morals, principles and values. It’s about what you stand for. There are way bigger things than money. If LeBron stopped making money now, his grandkids and grandkids and grandkids can have the best life ever. I feel like it’s definitely time for athletes to stand up for the things they believe in, and stand up for the things, not just in America issues, but all over the world.”

Freedom, who has also called out Michael Jordan for his political silence, said he feels no hesitation when criticizing the biggest names in the sport.

“I mean, my whole life I was never scared of anything. Not many people know this but whenever I sit down with an NBA player, they are telling me that they want to talk about many of the issues that are happening but they are scared because of the challenges they will face,” said Freedom. “The thing is, whenever I talk about LeBron, whenever I talk about Michael Jordan, the Black athletes in the league are the ones reaching out to me and saying, ‘Listen, talk about this person.’ They are the ones that actually — not many people know this — but they are the ones giving me talking points.

“When Black Lives Matter protests happened, I was the third one in the whole league that went out there and protested. I was actually wearing my jersey, I wanted them to know that I am with them. I am with them, it’s not them, it’s us, it’s all of us. But when these issues are happening, some of the other players out there in the league are scared to say anything against LeBron or Jordan or against some of the issues that are happening, but they are reaching out to me and giving me talking points and say, ‘Listen, talk about LeBron.’

“It’s amazing but he’s at least standing up for things in America. Why don’t you say anything about Michael Jordan? The only thing he is doing is just giving money but he is remaining silent. He’s scared to speak up. Silence is violence so they are the ones sending me all the talking points and if I believe in it, then I’m going out and saying it. Because, like I said, I’m not really scared of anything because this is bigger than basketball. It’s important to not have that fear and I hope more players will join me.”

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