ATLANTA — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris said they "will not be silent" on the rise of racism and violence against Asian Americans.
Biden and Harris' visit to Atlanta was originally touted as a celebratory stop to mark the passing of the COVID-19 relief package. Instead, they met with Asian American leaders and mourned with the city shaken by shootings that killed eight people earlier this week.
On Tuesday, a shooter embarked on a deadly spree in metro Atlanta. He visited three massage parlors where he gunned down the people inside.
Eight people are dead — six of whom were of Asian American descent and seven women. The incident took place after a year of rising racism and violence against Asian Americans.
Biden and Harris were already headed to Atlanta Friday as one stop on their multiple-city victory lap to celebrate the recently passed $1.9 trillion relief package — the American Rescue Plan. Thursday, they announced the full cancellation of the political event.
In his remarks, Biden said he didn’t feel it was “appropriate” to move forward with the schedule as planned in the wake of the tragedy.
Biden and Harris noted that regardless of the motive, the facts are clear: Asian Americans have suffered "skyrocketing" hate crimes for the past year and racism throughout history.
“Too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying — waking up each morning the past year feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones are at stake,” Biden said. "They've been attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed. They've been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed. ... It’s been a year of living in fear for their lives."
A report released before the shootings in Atlanta from the organization Stop AAPI Hate said there were about 3,800 anti-Asian incidents in the past year — up by about 1,000 from its report the previous year. The report lists 48 anti-Asian acts tracked in Georgia.
Asian American women were more than two times likely to face hate-driven harassment than men, it says.
Biden said during their “heart wrenching” meeting Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders in Atlanta, community advocates said the racism and violence “often hide in plain sight."
"It's often met with silence. … That has to change,” he said. "Because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.”
Donald Trump has been spotlighted as a main source of the anti-Asian incidents. The former president’s xenophobic comments blaming China for the pandemic and racist language such as referring to the virus as the “kung flu” fueled hate against the communities.
The growing racism and violence come at a time when AAPI voters have found their voice in Atlanta and across the country. The community’s rising population in the metro Atlanta suburbs played a role in helping the state back a Democratic candidate and electing Harris, the first Black person, woman and South Asian American, to the second highest office in the country.
During her speech Friday, Harris said for the past year people “in positions of incredible power have been scapegoating Asian Americans” and “spreading this kind of hate."
"Everyone has the right to go to work, to go to school, to walk down the street and be safe,” she said. "And also, the right to be recognized as an American, not as 'the other.' Not as ‘them.’ But as us. A harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us. The President and I will not be silent."
Biden and Harris met with AAPI leaders including all five Asian American members of the General Assembly — Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta; Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville; Rep. Marvin Lim, D-Norcross, Sen. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek; and Sen. Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and several AAPI community advocates also took part.
The state’s Asian American legislators pressed their colleagues to take action on gun control legislation following the mass shooting. The body passed a hate crimes bill last year which also opened an avenue for the shooter — 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long — to be charged with a bias-motivated crime which would enhance his penalties. He has already been charged with eight counts of murder.
The hate crimes legislation includes protections for sex and gender, Nguyen said Thursday, based on the description from law enforcement that Long equated his violence to a “sex addiction,” it could be charged as targeting women.
But Nguyen and her fellow lawmakers said more needs to be done to combat xenophobia, racism and sexism.
"A hate crimes law does not prevent hate killings," she said.