President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris offered solace to Asian Americans and denounced the scourge of racism at times hidden “in plain sight” as they visited Atlanta, just days after a white gunman killed eight people, most of them Asian American women.
Addressing the nation after a roughly 80-minute meeting with Asian American state legislators and other leaders Friday, Biden said it was “heart-wrenching” to listen to their stories of the fear among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders amid what he called a “skyrocketing spike” of harassment and violence against them.
“We have to change our hearts," he said. "Hate can have no safe harbor in America.”
Biden called on all Americans to stand up to bigotry when they see it, adding: “Our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit.”
“They’ve been attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed; they’ve been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed," Biden said of Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
The president also called the shootings an example of a “public health crisis of gun violence in this country,” as his administration has come under scrutiny from some in his own party for not moving as swiftly as promised on reforming the nation's gun laws.
Harris, the first person of South Asian descent to hold national office, said that while the motive of the shooter remains under investigation, these facts are clear: Six of the eight killed were of Asian descent and seven of them were women.
“Racism is real in America. And it has always been. Xenophobia is real in America, and always has been. Sexism, too,” she said. “The president and I will not be silent. We will not stand by. We will always speak out against violence, hate crimes and discrimination, wherever and whenever it occurs.”
She added that everyone has “the right to be recognized as an American. Not as the other, not as them. But as us.”
Before leaving Washington, Biden declared his support for the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, a bill that would strengthen the government’s reporting and response to hate crimes and provide resources to Asian American communities.
The trip by the US president and vice-president was planned before the shooting, as part of a victory lap aimed at selling the benefits of pandemic relief legislation. But Biden and Harris instead spent much of their visit consoling a community whose growing voting power helped secure their victory in Georgia and beyond.
Activists have seen a rise of racist attacks. Nearly 3,800 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and its partner advocacy groups, since March 2020.
Biden and Harris both implicitly criticized former President Donald Trump. “For the last year we’ve had people in positions of incredible power scapegoating Asian Americans,” said Harris, “people with the biggest pulpits, spreading this kind of hate.”
In his first primetime address to the nation as president last Thursday — five days before the Atlanta killings at three metro-area massage businesses — Biden called attacks on Asian Americans “un-American.”