The suspected gunman in Tuesday’s attacks on three Atlanta-area spas has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. Seven of the victims were women, six of them of Asian descent. The suspect is a white man. In a press conference Wednesday, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Captain Jay Baker said 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long’s killing spree was not racially motivated and instead stemmed from his “sex addiction.”
Capt. Jay Baker: “And he was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope. And yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”
California Democratic Congressmember Ted Lieu tweeted in response, “All of us have experienced bad days. But we don’t go to three Asian businesses and shoot up Asian employees.” Congressmember Lieu says he does not have confidence in the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department and called on the FBI to conduct its own independent investigation. This comes as BuzzFeed News reports Captain Baker posted racist, anti-Chinese images and comments on social media in 2020.
Since Tuesday’s attack, memorials for the victims have been held nationwide.
The World Health Organization is recommending the continued use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, after multiple nations suspended inoculations over concerns about blood clots in patients who received the vaccine. This is WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove.
Maria Van Kerkhove: “The use of the vaccine far outweighs the risks. We know that vaccines that are out there are safe and effective. And it is really important that individuals get vaccinated when it’s your turn, when you are offered.”
Brazil’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse as COVID-19 cases and deaths surge to new highs. On Wednesday, Brazil reported more than 90,000 new infections for the first time since the start of the pandemic. A reported 5,500 Brazilians died of COVID-19 in the last two days alone. Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who opposes lockdowns and has mocked COVID-19 as a “little flu,” recently appointed his fourth health minister since the start of the pandemic.
The United Nations reports the pandemic may have caused an additional 239,000 indirect deaths of children and mothers across South Asia. The U.N. cites rising poverty during the pandemic, as well as interruptions to medical care, immunizations and treatments for malnutrition.
President Biden says the U.S. might not honor its agreement with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1. Speaking to ABC News, Biden called the U.S. agreement with the Taliban negotiated last year “not a very solidly negotiated deal.” About 3,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan nearly 20 years after the U.S.-led invasion.
Russia has recalled its ambassador to the United States after President Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin would “pay the price” for allegedly meddling in the 2020 election. Biden spoke to ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos.
George Stephanopoulos: “So, you know Vladimir Putin. You think he’s a killer?”
President Joe Biden: “Mm-hmm, I do.”
George Stephanopoulos: “So what price must he pay?”
President Joe Biden: “The price he’s going to pay, well, you’ll see shortly.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was looking to prevent an “irreversible deterioration in relations” over President Biden’s remarks.
Senate Democrats have introduced sweeping voting rights legislation passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month. The For the People Act aims to improve voter registration and access to the polls, ends partisan and racial gerrymandering, forces the disclosure of dark money donors, increases public funding for candidates and imposes strict ethical and reporting standards on members of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans have signaled they’ll use the filibuster to defeat the bill.
In his first speech from the Senate floor, Georgia Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock condemned Republican voter suppression efforts as “Jim Crow in new clothes.”
Sen. Raphael Warnock: “Since the January election, some 250 voter suppression bills have been introduced by state legislatures all across the country, from Georgia to Arizona, from New Hampshire to Florida, using the big lie of voter fraud as a pretext for voter suppression, the same big lie that led to a violent insurrection on this very Capitol.”
Democratic Congressmembers Pramila Jayapal and Debbie Dingell introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2021 Wednesday, one year after the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is Congressmember Jayapal.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “And though this devastating pandemic has shone a bright light on our broken, for-profit healthcare system, we also know that we were already leaving nearly half of all adults under the age of 65 uninsured or underinsured before COVID-19 hit. And that was happening while we paid double more per capita for healthcare than any other country in the world.”
The IRS is extending the tax-filing deadline to May 17 as it deals with a massive backlog of tax returns. Even before the pandemic, the IRS faced a decade of budget cuts that left it woefully understaffed. ProPublica reports that, in recent years, audits of the rich and the largest corporations have plummeted, while audits of poor taxpayers have remained comparatively high.
Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced the Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act, which would increase taxes on large companies that pay CEOs over 50 times more than the median pay of its workers. The bill also strengthens government oversight of corporate tax avoidance. On Wednesday, Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, held a hearing on the inequality crisis. Sanders called on Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s two richest men, to appear before the committee, but Bezos declined. Amazon worker Jennifer Bates, who is helping organize what could become the company’s first union in Bessemer, Alabama, was at the hearing and testified.
Jennifer Bates: “We have to keep up with the pace. My workday feels like a nine-hour intense workout every day, and they track our every move. If your computer isn’t scanning, you get charged with being time off task. From the onset, I learned that if I worked too slow or had too much time off task, I could be disciplined or even fired.”
In Britain, in a major win for labor rights, Uber will reclassify all 70,000 of its drivers as workers, entitling them to minimum wage, holiday pay and other benefits. The U.K. is the first country where Uber will adopt this business model, after a landmark Supreme Court ruling last month in a lawsuit brought by a handful of drivers.
In more news from the U.K., police will start recording crimes motivated by a person’s sex or gender as a hate crime. The move is not yet permanent and comes amid mounting tensions over a new bill pushed by Conservatives that would increase police powers and crack down on peaceful protesters. On Saturday, police violently broke up a vigil for Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who was murdered earlier this month, likely by a police officer. On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans for plainclothes police officers to patrol bars and nightclubs in an effort to prevent sexual violence — a move that was swiftly condemned by rights groups and women across Britain.
A Japanese court ruled for the first time Wednesday the country’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. The ruling is a major victory for LGBTQ rights in Japan, though campaigners still face an uphill battle to legalize same-sex marriage. This is one of the plaintiffs in the case, who chose to keep her identity a secret.
Plaintiff: “Only because the gender of the person we love is different, we can’t get married. We live the same lives as heterosexuals, have the same troubles and the same joys. Though our lives are exactly the same, the nation wouldn’t recognize this. This is clear discrimination, from our point of view.”
Federal agents have arrested a heavily armed man outside the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. Thirty-one-year-old San Antonio resident Paul Murray was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service based on an intelligence bulletin originating from Texas. He had a rifle and ammunition in his vehicle.