U.S. President Joe Biden called on Congress to send him new legislation on hate crimes and for Americans to “change our hearts” to combat racially motivated attacks on Asian Americans, following the murders of eight people in shootings this week in the Atlanta area.
Biden asked lawmakers to send him the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to sign, which would improve government reporting of the crimes and make information more accessible to Asian Americans.
“Hate can have no safe harbor in America. It must stop. And it’s on all of us, all of us to make it stop,” Biden said in a speech at Emory University in Atlanta.
An assailant attacked three spas around Atlanta earlier this week, killing six Asian women and two others. The shootings raised nationwide alarm about an increase of such incidents during the pandemic. Biden set aside plans for a more political trip to Georgia which he would promote his $1.9 trillion stimulus to focus on the violence.
Biden said in a tweet that he’s discussing “ongoing attacks against the community” with Asian American leaders he met in Atlanta.
“It’s up to all of us to root out racism and give hate no safe harbor in America,” he said.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris earlier visited the headquarters of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where they received an update on the pandemic.
Police say they’re still investigating the motive of the man they’ve arrested in the shootings, who frequented businesses like the ones he attacked, but the killings renewed concerns about threats and violence against Asian Americans after former President Donald Trump repeatedly blamed the coronavirus outbreak on China.
“Whatever the motivation we know this: too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying,” Biden said in his speech. “It’s been a year of living in fear for their lives just to walk down the streets.”
Harris, in her own remarks, said “For the last year, we’ve had people in positions of incredible power scapegoating Asian Americans. People with the biggest pulpits spreading this kind of hate.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that Trump bears some blame for the violence, citing his frequently offensive comments about the virus’s origins in China.
Biden didn’t blame Trump directly but said: “Words have consequences. It’s the coronavirus. Full stop.”
A coalition called Stop AAPI Hate has recorded nearly 3,800 incidents of harassment, assault and civil rights violations against Asian Americans between March 19, 2020, and the end of February, and found that Asian American women report “hate incidents” more than twice as often as men. AAPI is an acronym for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Biden “understands and knows the past year that the community has been vilified, they’ve been scapegoated and they’ve been attacked,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Police on Wednesday arrested Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, in connection with the Atlanta-area murders. Biden tweeted later that day that the motives of the gunman remain unknown but the “Asian-American community is feeling enormous pain tonight.”
“The recent attacks against the community are un-American,” Biden said. “They must stop.”
The president on Thursday ordered U.S. flags on federal property lowered to half-staff to honor the victims.
The trip had been planned as part of a nationwide tour by Biden, Harris, their spouses and other officials to promote the passage of his coronavirus relief measure. Despite the shift in emphasis, Biden still praised the legislation.
“Maybe Republicans in Washington didn’t vote for it, but the American Rescue Plan sure has brought the country together,” Biden said.
Georgia, once a Republican bastion, voted narrowly for Biden in 2020 and then elected two Democrats in runoff elections in January to the Senate, giving the president’s party control of the chamber.
Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both made Biden’s promise of $2,000 direct payments from another round of stimulus a central issue in their campaigns. Their victories allowed Democrats to pass the relief package through Congress without Republican support.
“If anyone ever wondered if voting can change a country, Georgia just proved it can,” Biden said. “Because you elected two United States senators, you made it possible to pass the American Rescue Plan.”
During the trip, Biden met with Ossoff, Warnock, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who led an effort to mobilize Black voters in the elections.
Biden, 78, stumbled while climbing the stairs to board his plane as he departed Washington, then picked himself up and entered the aircraft. White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said the president did not require medical attention. Biden was mocked on Twitter by allies of Trump, including the former president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr.
White House officials had said they were looking forward to the trip as a chance to plug the legislation’s benefits and ensure the president and Democrats receive credit for the law. Warnock is running for a full term in next year’s midterm elections and Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, faces re-election.
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