President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday called for an end to anti-Asian violence in the United States after meeting with Asian-American community leaders in Atlanta following spa shootings that killed eight.
“There are simply some core values and beliefs that should bring us together as Americans,” President Biden said in remarks at Emory University in Atlanta.
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“One of them is standing together as Americans. One of them is standing together against hate, against racism,” Biden said.
Biden linked the Atlanta shootings to a broader wave of anti-Asian attacks that spiked during the coronavirus pandemic in the US. At the same time, the US president sounded a note of confidence as he marked the distribution of 100 million vaccine doses under his administration and enactment of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
“Too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worry, waking up each morning this past year fearing for their safety, the safety of their loved ones,” Biden said.
“They’ve been attacked, blamed, scapegoated, harassed. They’ve been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed,” he said.
Police have charged a 21-year-old man with murder in the slayings. Authorities have now released all of the victims’ names. Seven of the slain were women, and six of them were of Asian descent.
Law enforcement officials said the suspect, an Atlanta-area resident who is white, suggested that frustration with sex addiction led him to commit the shootings.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met privately with Asian-American and Pacific Islander community leaders and Georgia politicians to hear concerns about the killings which sent shockwaves through the US Asian-American community.
Stephanie Cho, executive director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Victoria Huynh, vice president, Center for Pan Asian Community Services, and Bianca Jyotishi, Georgia organiser, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum were among the participants.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Asian Americans have seen rising incidents of physical assaults, racial slurs and verbal abuse. Stop AAPI Hate, a group formed to combat the rise in attacks during the pandemic, said it had documented more than 2,800 first-hand accounts of anti-Asian hate in 2020.
Biden gave his support on Friday to COVID-19 hate crimes legislation introduced in Congress on March 11 by Senator Mazie Hirono and Representative Grace Meng.
The bill would direct the US Department of Justice to focus on hate crimes against Asians and establish better reporting of such crimes as well as a public education campaign.
Biden had issued an executive order in his first week in office directing federal agencies to combat anti-Asian hate arising from the pandemic.
Statements by former President Donald Trump calling the coronavirus the “China virus” or “Kung flu” perpetuated stigmas about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and contributed to bullying, harassment and hate crime, the Biden order said.
The president’s visit to Atlanta was previously scheduled and initially designed to promote the Biden administration’s progress in combating the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden heralded the delivery of 100 million vaccine shots on the 58th day of his presidency. A pledge he had made following the 2020 election was to deliver 100 million vaccine shots within the first 100 days of his presidency.
The president and vice president visited the US Centers for Disease Control, based in Atlanta, where the president thanked scientists for their work to control the virus. Trump had sidelined the CDC in the early months of the pandemic.
Georgia, meanwhile, has emerged as an important state for Biden after his unlikely win in the 2020 presidential election and the successes of two Democratic candidates for the US Senate.
Biden and Harris were scheduled to meet with Stacey Abrams, a leading advocate for voting rights in Georgia where Republicans in the state legislature are advancing new laws to curtail voting in the state.
Biden stumbled on Friday climbing the stairs to board Air Force One for a flight to Atlanta. The president, who is 78 years old, tripped three times about halfway up the steps. A White House spokesman told reporters travelling with the president he was fine and did not need medical attention.