Joe Biden and Kamala Harris called for an end to discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans on Friday, just days after a shooter killed eight people in Georgia, including six of Asian descent.
“Hate and violence often hide in plain sight. It is often met with silence,” the president said in a speech at Emory University in Atlanta. “That has to change, because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.”
Biden and vice-president Harris had originally been set to travel to Atlanta on Friday for a drive-in rally to tout the benefits of their $1.9tn American Rescue Plan, a sweeping stimulus package that was signed into law last week.
But the White House changed its plans this week after a 21-year-old gunman went on a shooting spree at three spas and massage parlours in the Atlanta area. The president and vice-president instead met with Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Asian-American community leaders on Friday before giving a televised speech on Friday afternoon.
Local police have resisted calling the mass shooting a hate crime, but the violence has revived calls across the country for an end to discrimination against Asian Americans, who have experienced an increase in race-based attacks during the coronavirus pandemic.
Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group that fights xenophobia against Asian Americans, has recorded almost 3,800 episodes of racially motivated hatred against Asian Americans over the past year.
Many critics have blamed Donald Trump for spreading racial hatred by labelling Covid-19 the “China virus” and the “Wuhan virus”.
“Whatever the killer’s motive these facts are clear — six out of the eight people killed on Tuesday night were of Asian descent, seven were women,” Harris said in her remarks at Emory. “The shootings took place in businesses owned by Asian Americans. The shootings took place as violent hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans have risen dramatically over the last year.
“Racism is real in America, and it has always been. Xenophobia is real in America, and always has been,” added Harris, who is the first woman, black person and person of south Asian descent to serve as vice-president. “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.”
Biden alluded to the comments made by Trump and others who have called Covid-19 the “China virus”, saying: “We have always known: words have consequences. This is the coronavirus. Full stop.”
The president also called on Congress to pass the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, legislation introduced by Democrats Grace Meng of New York and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, which would increase federal, state and local funding for prosecuting hate crimes.
“Hate can have no safe harbour in America. It must stop,” Biden added. “It is on all of us, all of us together, to make it stop.”