President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Asian-American leaders Friday when they visit Atlanta, Georgia.
The president and vice president were already due in the southern city for a stop on their ‘Help is Here’ tour – a way the administration is promoting the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
But with Tuesday’s trio of shootings at Atlanta spas, in which six Asian-American women were among the eight victims, the White House canceled the planned political event, the White House said.
Instead, a meeting was set up with Asian-American state legislators and community advocates, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The president and vice president will also visit the Centers for Disease Control, which is based in Atlanta.
On Thursday, Biden ordered that American flags be flown at half-staff until Monday to honor the victims.
President Joe Biden will meet with Asian-American leaders Friday in Atlanta after the trio of spa shootings that left six Asian-American women dead out of eight victims
Vice President Kamala Harris also planned to be in Atlanta alongside Biden and will meet with members of the Asian-American community as well
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, Vice President Kamala 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.’
Press Secretary Jen 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 Cedric 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.
In February, video came out of a 91-year-old man in Oakland, California’s Chinatown neighborhood being pushed to the ground, also during daytime hours.
National Public Radio reported Thursday that an updated count from Stop AAPI Hate stood at more than 3,000 incidents.
‘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.