Biden visits Atlanta, condemns violence against Asian-Americans

AFP
US President Joe Biden said that Americans are "learning again what we've always known: Words have consequences. It's the coronavirus, full stop."
AFP
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Biden visits Atlanta, condemns violence against Asian-Americans
AFP

US President Joe Biden speaks during a listening session with Georgia Asian American and Pacific Islander community leaders at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

US President Joe Biden on Friday denounced the scourge of violence against Asian-Americans, telling a community plunged into grief after this week's Atlanta murders that the nation must not be complicit in the face of racism and xenophobia.

After meeting with leaders of Georgia's Asian-American community, Biden delivered a brief speech at Atlanta's Emory University and said he told the leaders that hate and violence have been "often met with silence" in the United States.

"But that has to change because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit," Biden said.

"We have to speak out, we have to act," he added, as he called on Americans to "combat this resurgence of xenophobia."

And in an apparent rebuke of previous president Donald Trump without mentioning his name, Biden said that Americans are "learning again what we've always known: Words have consequences. It's the coronavirus, full stop."

Trump faced severe blowback last year for repeatedly calling COVID-19 — which has now killed 540,000 people in the United States — the "China virus."

Biden noted that attacks on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have been "skyrocketing," a trend confirmed by the group Stop AAPI Hate which says nearly 3,800 cases have been reported since last year, including verbal and physical assaults, discrimination and civil rights abuses.

Biden's pre-scheduled trip to the southern metropolis was originally intended to focus on his COVID-19 battle plan. The president began with a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he received a briefing and declared "science is back."

But this week's carnage around Georgia's largest city prompted Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, to add a meeting with Asian-Americans.

It was framed by the White House as "an opportunity to hear about the impact on their community of Tuesday's heartbreaking senseless acts of violence as well as their perspectives on increased anti-Asian incidents."

Three massage parlors around Atlanta were targeted on Tuesday, and a 21-year-old suspect was arrested.

Robert Aaron Long faces eight counts of murder and one charge of aggravated assault.

'Heart-wrenching'

Of the eight fatalities, six were women of Asian descent.

Biden said it was "heart-wrenching" to listen to the grieving community members.

"I know they feel that like there's a black hole in their chest they're being sucked into, and things will never get better," he said.

"But our prayers are with you. I assure you the one you lost will always be with you."

Long has admitted carrying out the attacks, according to law enforcement, but claims he was not motivated by racial hatred.

Officers said Long told police he was grappling with a sexual addiction and that he wanted to "eliminate" a temptation that put him in conflict with his strict religious beliefs.

Authorities have not confirmed the motive, but the killings were seen as laying bare the intersection of sexism and racism in the United States.

The four women killed in Atlanta itself — at two neighboring spas — were named Friday by the Fulton County medical examiner's office as Hyun J. Grant, 51; Soon C. Park, 74; Yong A. Yue, 63; and Suncha Kim, 69.

Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at the White House and other public buildings until Monday as a mark of respect for the Atlanta victims. The House of Representatives held a moment of silence on Friday.

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