President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Asian-American leaders Friday when they visit Atlanta, Georgia, as the trip shifted from politics to personal after a shooting spree left six Asian-American women dead.
But the trip will include a meeting with Stacey Abrams, the failed gubernatorial candidate turned voting rights activist, whose work in the state helped give Biden a victory in Georgia last year. He was the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1992.
Abrams is a rising star in the Democratic Party and was on the list for consideration as Biden’s running mate. The speculation is she will make another gubernatorial run in 2022.
Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One that Biden and Harris would also be meeting with Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, as well as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
The president and vice president were already scheduled to be in the city for their ‘Help is Here’ tour – a way the administration is promoting its $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. Biden had campaigned for Warnock and Ossoff in the run-up to the January run-offs, promising Americans if the Senate flipped they would get $2,000 stimulus checks.
Friday’s trip shifted tone after Tuesday’s trio of shootings at Atlanta spas left eight dead.
Instead, a meeting was set up with Asian-American state legislators and community advocates. They will meet with Asian-American leaders at Emory University and Biden will give remarks, where he is expected to address the surge in hate crimes.
There were nearly 3,800 incidents against Asian Americans in the last year, the group Stop AAPI Hate reported, and 68 per cent of those were against women.
Harris is the first Asian-American vice president. Her mother was born in India.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Asian-American leaders Friday when they visit Atlanta, Georgia
The trip will include a meeting with Stacey Abrams, the voting rights activist whose work in the state helped give Joe Biden a victory in Georgia last year
On Thursday, Biden ordered that American flags be flown at half-staff until Monday to honor the victims.
Press secretary Jen Psaki said at her briefing on Thursday that Biden will ‘offer his support for the AAPI community in Georgia and across the country and talk about his commitment to combating xenophobia, intolerance and hate.’
White House officials have also reached out to leaders in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to reiterate their commitment to fighting anti-Asian hatred.
‘What I’m conveying to them is, we want you to be a part of the solution,’ White House adviser Cedric Richmond told The Washington Post. ‘You all have been in the community running these programs. We want your expertise, we want your input into how we get past this. But it’s also been an intensive two days of making sure that we’re listening.’
The president and vice president will also visit the Centers for Disease Control, which is based in Atlanta, on Friday.
Biden will return to Washington D.C. to spend the weekend at Camp David.
Crime scene tape is seen outside Aromatherapy Spa after shootings at a massage parlor and two day spas in the Atlanta area
On Wednesday, Biden said he was making ‘no connection’ between the Atlanta massage parlor shooter and the race of his victims before the investigation is complete, but continued to call the uptick in hate crimes against Asians ‘very troubling.’
Biden made the comments in the Oval Office Wednesday before a virtual meeting with Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheal Martin, telling reporters he had spoken with Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
‘I know that Asian-Americans are very, very concerned because, as you know, I was speaking about the brutality against Asian-American for the last couple months,’ Biden said. ‘And I think it is very, very troubling.’
‘But I’m making no connection at this moment. The motivation of the killer. I’m waiting for an answer, as the investigation proceeds, from the FBI and from the Justice Department,’ the president continued. ‘I’ll have more to say when the investigation has completed.’
A white man, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, is accused of killing eight people in three locations Tuesday night in Atlanta.
Six of the people were Asian and seven were women.
Long allegedly shot give people at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor, which is north of the city. Two people died at the scene, while three were taken to the hospital where two later succumbed to their injuries.
An hour later, three women were found dead at Gold Spa.
Another woman was found dead at Aromatherapy Spa.
The shooter told police that it was a ‘sex addiction’ and not racist motivations that compelled him to kill.
Police have stressed they haven’t come to a conclusion about the motivations of the killer.
‘The suspect did take responsibility for the shootings,’ Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said, according to the Associated Press. ‘This is still early, but he does claim it was not racially motivated.’
‘He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as … a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,’ Baker said.
Earlier Wednesday, Harris also shared her condolences, prior to her virtual meeting with Martin to mark St. Patrick’s Day.
‘It is tragic. Our country, the president and I and all of us, we grieve for those lost. Our prayers are with the families of those who have been killed,’ Harris said. ‘This speaks to a larger issue which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it.’
‘The investigation is ongoing, we don’t yet know, we’re not yet clear about the motive. But I do want to say to our Asian American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people,’ Harris added.
First lady Jill Biden also spoke about the shooting during her trip Wednesday to New Hampshire.
‘I want to start by saying something directly to the families of the shooting victims in Atlanta last night. My heart is with you. And I hope that all Americans will join me in praying for everyone touched by this senseless tragedy,’ the first lady said.
The president made a point during last Thursday’s primetime speech to address the uptick in hate crimes against Asian-Americans since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden called out the ‘vicious hate crimes against Asian-Americans, who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.’
‘At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, are on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives and still, still they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,’ Biden continued. ‘It’s wrong, it’s un-American and it must stop.’
Psaki pointed a finger at former President Donald Trump’s administration when asked later Wednesday at the press briefing why Biden believed attacks on Asian-Americans are increasing.
‘I think there’s no question that some of the damaging rhetoric that we saw during the prior administration blaming – calling COVID the Wuhan virus or other things, led to perceptions of the Asian-American community that are inaccurate, unfair, have raised threatening, has elevated threats against Asian-Americans and we’re seeing that around the country,’ Psaki said.
A week ago, Trump, again, used the racist phrase ‘China virus’ in a statement taking credit for the swift development of COVID-19 vaccines.
‘I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 (often referred to as the China virus) vaccine, that if I wasn’t president, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for five years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all.’ the ex-president wrote.
Biden previously made moves to stop usage of the term by signing an executive order titled ‘Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States‘ on day No. 6 of his presidency.
‘The Federal Government must recognize that it has played a role in furthering these xenophobic sentiments through the actions of political leaders, including references to the COVID-19 pandemic by the geographic location of its origin,’ the order said.
‘Such statements have stoked unfounded fears and perpetuated stigma about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and have contributed to increasing rates of bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI persons,’ it continued.
Psaki said Wednesday that White House officials Richmond and Susan Rice will be doing ‘listening sessions’ with members of the Asian-American community.
The group Stop AAPI Hate said in February that it received 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate from 47 states and Washington, D.C. from March 19, 2020 to the end of last year.
In January, an 84-year-old Asian-American man was killed in an attack in San Francisco, which the family believed to be racially motivated.
Video went viral of who police identified as 19-year-old Antoine Watson, slamming Vicha Ratanapakdee to the ground.
‘If you see video, there’s nothing non-intentional about it,’ Ratanapakdee’s step-son, Eric Lawson told KTVU, Fox’s Bay Area affiliate. ‘For him to come from all the way across the street, what else could have motivated him?’ he said of Watson’s actions.
‘What we’ve discovered isn’t that we’ve just had a spike, but we’ve had a surge over the entire year last year with COVID-19 and with the president’s political rhetoric in the last administration,’ Russell Jeung, a co-founder of the coalition and a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, told NPR.
Trump defended using ‘China virus’ a day before Stop AAPI Hate started tracking anti-Asian hate crimes.
‘It’s not racist at all,’ Trump said at a coronavirus taskforce press briefing on March 18. ‘No, not at all.’
He said he used the term ‘because it comes from China.’
‘That’s why,’ he continued. ‘I want to be accurate.’
Even then, there were already dozens of reports of bias against Chinese-Americans in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.