US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Atlanta on Friday, several days after shootings at three spas in the city that killed eight people. The majority of the victims were Asian-American women, which has sparked a nationwide debate about anti-Asian racism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden and Harris met with Asian-American lawmakers in Georgia, along with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. Harris' role in the trip is especially pertinent, as she is the first person of South Asian heritage to hold national office.
Addressing the nation after the roughly 80-minute meeting, Biden said it was "heart-wrenching" to listen to stories of the fear among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders amid what he called a "skyrocketing spike" of harassment and violence against them.
"They've been attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed; they've been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed," he said of Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
Vice-President Harris said that while the motive of the shooter remains under investigation, these facts were 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.
Biden, Harris to tout hate crime legislation during Atlanta visit
Biden and Harris are expected to promote the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act during their visit, a bill that would broaden Justice Department oversight of coronavirus-related hate crimes. The bill would also provide additional support to state and local law enforcement in combating hate crimes.
Hate crimes towards Asian-Americans have increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit based in California. It recorded nearly 3,800 cases of anti-Asian discrimination in the past year, compared to roughly 2,600 in 2019.
wd/msh (AP, Reuters)