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Atlanta Police Release Names of Four Women Killed in Spa Shootings; Today, Biden and Harris Met with Asian-American Leaders in Atlanta; CDC Expected to Update Guidance on Physical Distancing in Schools. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 19, 2021 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


President Biden, just 58 days on the job, taking on a familiar role today as consoler in chief. This hour, the vice president and president are heading to Atlanta to mourn the loss of eight people, including six Asian women killed in a shooting spree and to meet with leaders in the Asian-American community, as well.

HARLOW: This comes as the president also meets a major goal today, way ahead of schedule, 100 million COVID vaccinations in his first 100 days in office. That is 42 days early.

Also today, the CDC is expected to announce new social distancing guidelines for children in schools. But as more states begin to ease restrictions, experts are warning of a potential spike in cases. Several states are seeing an uptick as officials race to get more shots in arms.

Let's begin though with our colleague, Natasha Chen. She is following the investigations into these shootings in and around Atlanta. Natasha, good morning to you.

The Atlanta Police Department with some new details this morning?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim and Poppy, the Fulton County medical examiner has now released the names of the four people who were killed at the two spas in Atlanta, which police say the suspect had frequented before.

Here are those names, if we can put them up on the screen. 75-year-old as you know Soon C. Park, 51-year-old Hyun J. Grant, 69-year-old Suncha Kim, and 63-year-old Yong A.Yue.

And this is coupled with the fact that the Atlanta Police Department issued an incident report yesterday describing just some of the brutal details of how this occurred, describing that some of the victims were shot in the head.

Again, these are four Asian women who were killed at these two Atlanta locations, two more Asian women were among those killed at the location in Cherokee County, here are we are. In total, eight people killed.

So a lot of memorials have developed at the spa locations, including the one here in Cherokee County. And we met someone yesterday discussing with us the motivation of the shooter and how race may be involved. Here she is.


STELLA SILVA, VISITED VIGIL FOR VICTIMS IN CHEROKEE COUNTY, GEORGIA: For whatever reason this tragedy happened, whether it was mental health, whether it was sex addiction, it all comes down to, he targeted an Asian-American community. Because at the end of the day, he went to three different sites where it's operated and owned by Asian-Americans. And we need to stop that right now. It's a systemic racism.


CHEN: Yes. And so that is a topic of conversation among a lot of people who are concerned about this. A lot of tension and fear already in the Asian-American community because of the overall rise in anti- Asian assaults incidents over the last year. This certainly makes it worst.

And so the Cherokee County District Attorney's Office has also said that they're meeting with the impacted families to bring justice to the victims, and they recognized the terror this community is feeling right now.

The flags behind me are at half-staff, as ordered by President Biden, to honor the victims of these shootings. Poppy and Jim?

SCIUTTO: Natasha Chen, thanks very much.

With me now is Dr. Michelle Au, she is a Democratic state senator in Georgia. Dr. Au, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

DR. MICHELLE AU (D), GEORGIA STATE SENATE: Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: You are meeting with President Biden and Vice President Harris on their visit today. I wonder what your message to them is going to be.

AU: Well, first of all, I want to say is it's such an incredible move for President Biden and Vice President Harris to come and meet with leaders in the Asian-American Pacific Islander community in the wake of this tragedy. Because I think what we've been hearing over the past year and, really, over the past several years and decades is that that our community is one that feels that we have been often overlooked and that these types of acts of racism and discrimination and violence against us have not been seen. So to have the president come and say, I see you, I hear you, I'm here to help means an incredible amount.

SCIUTTO: The day before the shootings, you were warning about anti- Asian violence. And the fact is, it has been with us for some time.


It's in the numbers, it's in the data. I wonder what you believe is fueling this rise.

AU: Well, you know, the reason I went to the well of the Senate to speak about this issue is that, again, I did not want people to feel that this was an issue that Georgia was immune to, right? I think over the past few months, we've been hearing more of these stories from the past year of increasing violence in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area, where there are more Asian-Americans that live there.

But Georgia is not immune to these problems and I think a lot of this stemmed -- this escalation has stemmed over the last year related to the coronavirus pandemic and the way that people attribute the blame to our Asian-American communities.

SCIUTTO: You may have heard, Republican Congressman Rodney Davis said that, in his view, he does not believe that public figures using phrases like the China virus, as the former president did frequently, or even worse, the Kung Flu are connected to this dramatic increase, that those words, in effect, from public leaders don't matter. Your response to him.

AU: It's remarkable for a public leader to say that the words of public leaders don't matter. So that's the first thing, quite a self- own. The other thing I have to say is people often attribute it to unrelated factors. It's not related to the rhetoric. However, the number of reported crimes and violence against Asian discrimination -- against Asian people has increased by about 150 percent in just the past year, all right?

The other thing is that we know that these kinds are vastly underreported for a lot of reasons that people don't report these crimes, chief of which is people feel like even when they are reported, nothing happens, people aren't listening, right? So I think that we have to look deep at what the motivations are and not be so glib about dismissing the effect of public rhetoric.

SCIUTTO: I spoke to the U.N. secretary general last hour. He made the point about this being a global phenomenon. And he particularly pointed to the words and the leadership of public figures.

You posted -- you tweeted this morning, in fact, about a victim of the shooting at the Gold Spa location. Her name was Hyun Jung Grant. She leaves behind two children, two sons. There's a GoFundMe page now. What more can you tell us about her life?

AU: This is a family that lives in my district. They live in Duluth. They do have a connection with my Senate team. I don't want to speak too much for them, but I do think that it's important when we move forward and cover this case that we do center the narrative around the victims and the families of this crime. I'm sick of hearing so much sympathy and empathy and questioning the motivations of the shooter, the avowed murderer, and really continuing this narrative that the victims, the Asian-American victims and the other victims are invisible, right?

Up until recently, they have been nameless, we haven't seen pictures of them, so it's easy to forget that these are the real victims, not the shooter.

SCIUTTO: We always want to remember that they're real people with real families experiencing real loss.

You brought this up there. You heard from the sheriff the other day, questioning whether this, in effect, was motivated by hate. The FBI director, Christopher Wray, last night said the massacre, at least at this point, does not appear to be racially motivated. And I wonder how you respond to that, to those statements?

AU: I want to point out two things. One is that in the state of Georgia, 4 percent of the population is Asian-American. However, of the victims of this crime, of the eight victims, 75 percent of them were Asian-American. So if this was random, that is, you know, quite a sampling bias. And I just have to say, you know, everyone should go out and buy a lottery ticket.

The second thing is that I think that we are too quick to parse out whether it was racially motivated or motivated by gender discrimination. These things exist in harmony, right? Like these things are always processed together. And all you have to do is see that of the 3,800 crimes that were reported to Stop AAPI Hate, which is sort of like collecting reports from the public, 70 percent of those were perpetrated against Asian women in particular.

So we really have to look at the interplay of race and gender as we move forward and realize that the intersectionality is what drives some of these hate crimes.

SCIUTTO: Yes, profilers often say that, the overlapping of motivations, kind of a vicious cycle.

Well, Dr. Michelle Au, thanks so much for coming on. It's a horrible issue to confront, but we appreciate your honest voice in this.

AU: Thank you. I appreciate you for paying attention.


HARLOW: We are not even a hundred days into this new administration, President Biden has faced some serious tests in a nation divided. Today was supposed to be about promoting the stimulus package, but his trip to Atlanta has changed dramatically. And this is about fighting hate now.

Let's bring in CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod, also the host of a great podcast, The Ax Files. [10:10:02]

David, it's really great to have you.

Let's talk about this moment, because you say this trip, in a way, underscores the entire narrative of this president and this presidency.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, first of all, I'm thinking as a former White House staffer about how you can plan -- you can plan the hell out of things and events take you in a different direction. This was supposed to be a day to celebrate progress and to celebrate the American rescue act and to sell the virtues of it. It turned into something completely different because of events you could not foresee, a massacre that is tragic and has really gripped this community and the country.

And so he's going now in a different role, and that role is what we've seen so often, the consoler in chief, but also as a president who, after all, just last week, talked about Asian-American hate crimes in his national address. So I'm sure he's going to speak, use this again as an opportunity to talk about that. So it's a different kind of trip than they had planned originally.

HARLOW: It is. And we heard the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, say it is a hate crime, whichever way you look at it. That is something the White House notably has not said. Can you help us understand why that would be?

AXELROD: Well, I mean, look, on the one hand, you see six Asian- American women slaughtered in this way, you know, it's very hard to interpret it as anything other than a hate crime, but there were technical legal tests of this. And, you know, the investigators are trying to prove it, prove his motivations in a way that they can charge.

And the White House is sort of caught in between, you know, the technical term, hate crime. And the obvious dimensions of this crime that lead you to think and feel like it is a hate crime. And it does feed into it what we've seen for the last year, where hate crimes against Asian-Americans are up 150 percent. My guess is that they will say today that this should be investigated as a hate crime.

And one of the things about the politics and the presidency is these things become larger than perhaps they should, how you refer to things. And, you know, they need to get around that and acknowledge what most people feel, which is, look, you kill six Asian-American women in this way, you target them as they apparently were targeted, that's a hate crime, whether it meets the technical test for prosecution or not. And they ought to investigate it as such.

HARLOW: And a hate crime on two levels, both against Asian-Americans and against women, which speaks to the critical importance of the vice president, Kamala Harris, being there.

AXELROD: Yes, absolutely. Can I just say one thing? I thought the senator that Jim spoke with a couple of minutes ago was really, really compelling. And one of the things that's disturbing about this -- so disturbing about this is the dehumanization of the victims, you know, the invisibility of the victims. And so that, you know, it is important to remember their humanity in all of this.

Yes, the vice president, look, she's the first South Asian vice president and she's obviously a woman and so this has -- she's a particularly compelling person to speak to this, to provide comfort to those who have lost loved ones, but also to speak to the issue of hate in this country. So it is meaningful that she is along on this trip and that she will be isn't the center of this discussion.

HARLOW: Finally, Stacey Abrams, they are going to meet with Stacey Abrams while they're down here today and this is happening sort of at ground zero for the fight over voting rights in this country.

AXELROD: Yes. This is another thing that may take -- that he had anticipated relative to the virus and the American rescue act. It is ground zero for the voting rights fight. The legislature there has really passed some draconian measures to roll back the ability of people to vote and make it more difficult for people to vote.

Stacey Abrams is obviously on the point in fighting those and has already called for the president and the Senate to set aside the filibuster, so that the Voting Rights Act that was just passed by the House can be passed by the Senate. So this is another issue that the president is going to have to deal with.

He took a step forward on the filibuster in the last few days, calling for a talking filibuster.


That may not be enough in this case. So he's going to have to deal with that issue, as well. So a whole menu of very difficult issues, as he arrives in Georgia.

Undoubtedly, he will speak to the repugnant nature of trying stop people from voting and the motives behind it, but question will -- and take federal action to try going forward.

HARLOW: Yes, how far will he go on a number of these fronts? David Axelrod, great to have you, thanks for the insight.

AXELROD: Poppy, good to be with you. Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, the CDC is expected to update its guidance for schools today. It is a big update. What this means for getting kids back in the classroom.

HARLOW: Disturbing new video, look at this, this is just released from the FBI. It is of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol that shows rioters violently attacking officers. Now, authorities are asking for your help to find them. And tensions flare on-camera during the first U.S./China talks of the Biden presidency. Details ahead.



SCIUTTO: Today, the CDC is expected to update its guidance on physical distancing in school. The new guidelines cut the distance in half, so important, considering space in schools is at a premium, from six feet, that it has become so familiar, now, Poppy, to three feet.

HARLOW: It's a really big deal. I keep thinking about all of those parents, this is probably going to help out, and the teachers and everyone.

The announcement comes as the U.S. reaches a key milestone today. President Biden says around 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered as of today. That's 42 days early, something that doesn't often happen in the government. It's good news on both fronts.

Our Sanjay Gupta, our Chief Medical Correspondent, is here with us now. Good morning, Sanjay.

Where would you like to begin? We have a lot of good news this morning.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, I mean, I think this three feet sort of guidance that's going to be coming out, I think, is really important, when we go around reporting on schools, just finding the square footage necessary for six foot of distancing was challenging. That was the rate-limiting step for a lot of places.

It was interesting how this sort of unfolded. There were these schools in Massachusetts that were told that you should maintain six feet distance, but you have to do three, you can do three and then they went back and looked at schools that did three feet of distancing versus six and found that there wasn't a significant difference in the overall viral transmission or county hospitalization rates and things like that. So I think this is good news. The World Health Organization, really, since the beginning has said one meter is adequate physical distancing.

There's a couple of caveats though. One is that about 41 percent of schools, according to our reporting, need or have done or need still to do improvements in ventilation, big changes in ventilation, HVAC or smaller changes. And that may become more of an issue as more students are in these classrooms. And, obviously, the basics still apply. Masking and all of that still has to be done.

SCIUTTO: Well, we should note that this three feet, they're still saying wear masks. But I wonder, Sanjay, does this apply to other places where we have been advised to keep six-foot distance? Because, you know, that's become something of a mantra, right? We're used to that as the sort of definition of social distancing.

GUPTA: Right. So here's how -- it's a great question. Here's how I would say it. First of all, the World Health Organization has said across the board, one meter, around three feet already. This was primarily evidence that was drawn from kids, from students, in these schools. And, you know, this idea that does that then translate to adults as well? It seems that it would, but I think that the -- what we're hearing from the CDC is they still want to collect some of that data.

So, for schools in that environment, with adequate ventilation, yes. I don't think they're quite ready to say three feet across the board.

HARLOW: All right. So, Sanjay, we know you are a man of many talents. You're with us all week, as our chief medical correspondent. You do brain surgery on the weekend. But I didn't know you were a rapper. Everyone, watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sanjay, are you there?

GUPTA: Hey, Daveed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll make this quick. Listen, I have some questions.

GUPTA: What's on your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This vaccine, I'm nervous. I've got songs to write. Would I still be able to do that?

GUPTA: It will be fine, Daveed. Science is what you need. The vaccine is safe, my friend. It's going to bring this pandemic to an end. You see what I did there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, okay, I trust it, thanks. Oh, and, Sanjay, don't do that again.

GUPTA: daveed, Daveed, I don't know, I thought I was spitting fire.


HARLOW: I hadn't seen it -- don't quit your day job?

GUPTA: The ad council is very creative. I think Daveed was actually upset. I think he was actually upset that I tried to rap. I mean, that's his gig.

SCIUTTO: Yes, well --

HARLOW: The importance of it, yes, the PSA, it matters.

GUPTA: The ad council does such a great job. I mean, vaccine hesitancy continues to be a problem and I think anyone that you can reach people to talk about it, I think, is important. SCIUTTO: Well, so we can say now, Sanjay, brain surgery is not rapping.


It's not -- not on that level. It's not rapping. Anyway --

GUPTA: Rapping is hard. it's definitely hard, as you can see by my performance there.

SCIUTTO: But brain surgery is respectable. We'll grant you that.

GUPTA: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: We know his parents are proud.

Well, the FBI is asking again for the public's help, now to find ten of just the most violent suspects caught on video attacking police officers during the deadly insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. These acts are horrible to see. We'll have more on the manhunt, coming up next.