On Friday, President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris met with Asian American and Pacific Island (AAPI) leaders in Atlanta, Ga., just two days after a series of shootings at three spas and massage parlours claimed the lives of eight, six of whom were Asian American women, National Public Radio reports
Their appearance in Atlanta was originally meant to be a socially distanced rally to celebrate the passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. After the tragedy on Wednesday, however, Biden and Harris shifted their attention to denouncing anti-AAPI violence and speaking with members of the AAPI communities in Atlanta, a meeting he later called “heart-wrenching.”
“There are simply some core values and beliefs that should bring us together as Americans,” Biden said at Emory University in Atlanta on Friday. “One of them is standing together against hate, against racism, the ugly poison that has long haunted and plagued our nation.”
Harris further acknowledged the intersectional issues of the shooting, which was perpetrated by a White male who claimed to be suffering from a “sexual addiction.”
“Racism is real in America,” she said. “And it has always been.”
The two also indirectly implicated former President Donald Trump for the role of his rhetoric (including inflammatory phrases such as “Chinavirus” and “kung flu”) in the “skyrocketing spike” of anti-AAPI hate — a near 150% increase since 2019, according to data from California State University San Bernardino.
“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,” Harris said.
“We’ve always known words have consequences,” Biden said. “It is the ‘coronavirus.’ Full stop.” He later reiterated these same words through a Tweet.
Axios reports Asian American leaders asked for $300 million dollars for safety and relief programs in response to the anti-Asian hate. They want $100 million to go to Asian American groups to tackle discrimination and $200 million for “longer-term community safety, recovery and resilience.”
Biden and Harris also visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta to receive a briefing on the status of COVID-19 in the country. He offered words of praise for the scientists. “We owe you a gigantic debt of gratitude and we will for a long, long, long time,” he said.
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