ATLANTA (CN) --- President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Asian American state legislators and community leaders in Atlanta Friday, three days after six Asian women were killed in a string of shootings at massage parlors in metro Atlanta.
“Their families are left with broken hearts and unanswered questions,” Biden, speaking at Emory University, said of the victims as he acknowledged the rise of attacks on Asian Americans in the past year.
“It’s been a year of living in fear of their lives just to walk the street,” he said. "Hate and violence often hide in plain sight. It’s often met with silence…but that has to change because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.”
Biden and Harris alluded to former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric last year that China was to blame for the Covid-19 pandemic, suggesting that it led to the increase of hate crimes against Asian Americans.
“Racism is real in America and it always has been,” Harris said while introducing Biden. “Xenophobia is real in America and always has been. Sexism, too. The last year we’ve had people in positions of incredible power scapegoat Asian Americans.”
Harris continued, “Ultimately this is about who we are as a nation. This is about how we treat people with dignity and respect. A harm against any one of us is a harm against us all.”
Biden released a statement Friday morning urging Congress to pass the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act to “expedite the federal government’s response to the rise of hate crimes exacerbated during the pandemic, support state and local governments to improve hate crimes reporting and ensure that hate crimes information is more accessible to Asian American communities.”
The president and vice president were already scheduled to spend the day in Atlanta to tout the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 stimulus package at a rally, but the plan changed in the wake of Tuesday’s mass shooting.
Before meeting with Asian American leaders, Biden and Harris visited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to show appreciation for the work done to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, telling workers “we owe you a debt of gratitude.”
“I came to say thank you,” Biden said. “I really mean it. I have a whole lot of nice notes here on the science, but I came to say thank you because you’re not only --- you’re changing the psyche of the country. You’re saving lives.”
Biden also addressed the CDC in his evening remarks, saying that while it’s a “time of optimism” with the vaccine rollout, “it’s not a time of relaxation.”
The president encouraged Americans to wash their hands, continue social distancing and get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible to.
“We have to beat this virus,” Biden said. “We have to, and we will. We will do so by putting aside politics and embracing science.”
The president briefly touched on voting rights, at a time when Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly have brought forth legislation tightening restrictions on absentee voting, which critics say is an attempt to suppress the minority vote.
“The battle of the right to vote is never, never over,” Biden said. "So we’re in a fight again. It’s a fight we need to win because if anyone ever doubted that voting matters, Georgia just proved it did.”
Biden also commented on the recently passed American Rescue Plan that will give Americans $1,400 stimulus checks. Despite Republicans in Congress voting against it, Biden said the plan has “brought the country together.”
The president and vice president also met with newly elected Democratic Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock on Friday.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.