U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris condemned anti-Asian violence in the country on Friday, warning against silence and complicity in the aftermath of shootings this week in Atlanta, Georgia, in which eight people, including six Asian women, were killed.
Speaking from Emory University in Atlanta after meeting with Asian-American community leaders, Biden acknowledged there has been "a skyrocketing spike" in hate against Asian Americans over the last year, while Harris sounded the alarm over a sobering reality that racism, xenophobia and sexism are all "real in America" and have always been in existence.
"Whatever the motivation," Biden said of the reason behind the Atlanta shootings, "we know this, too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying, waking up each morning the past year feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones are at stake. They've been attacked, blamed, scapegoated, harassed. They've been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed."
The president lamented that the families of the Atlanta shooting victims were left with "broken hearts and unanswered questions," suggesting that the country failed to express enough outrage about innocent Asian Americans being targeted during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Hate and violence often hide in plain sight and are so often met with silence. That's been true throughout history. But that has to change because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act," Biden said. "For all the good the laws can do, we have to change our hearts. Hate can have no safe harbor in America. It must stop. And it's on all of us, all of us together to make it stop."
Harris, who herself is of South Asian descent, said prior to Biden, "A harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us. 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."
Eight people, six of whom were Asian and two were white, were killed in three shooting incidents in massage parlors in the Atlanta area by a suspect identified as 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, who is now detained and charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.
The attacks came amid a troubling spike in violence against the Asian American community during the coronavirus pandemic -- 3,800 hate incidents reported in the last year, statistics showed. Although the motive in the carnage has not been determined by police, some public officials and anti-discrimination organizations have raised concerns over the role of racism in the crime.
"Whatever the killer's motive, these facts are clear: six out of the eight people on Tuesday night were of Asian descent; seven were women; the shootings took place in businesses owned by Asian Americans; the shootings took place as violent hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans has risen dramatically over the last year and more," Harris said at the beginning of her remarks.