Biden, Harris to grieve with a shaken Atlanta

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Riley Bunch, The Valdosta Daily Times, Ga.
·4 min read
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Mar. 19—ATLANTA — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris' visit to Atlanta was originally touted as a celebratory stop to mark the passing of the COVID-19 relief package.

Instead, they will mourn Friday with a city shaken by the shooting deaths of eight people earlier in the week.

On Tuesday, a shooter embarked on a deadly spree in metro Atlanta and visited three massage parlors where he gunned down the people inside.

Eight people are dead — six of whom were of Asian American descent and seven women. The incident took place after a year of rising racism and violence against Asian Americans.

Biden and Harris were already headed to Atlanta Friday as one stop on their multiple-city victory lap to celebrate the recently passed $1.9 trillion relief package — the American Rescue Plan. Thursday, they announced the full cancellation of the political events and will instead meet with Asian American leaders and visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the White House, the two will visit the CDC to receive an update on pandemic response then meet with Asian American leaders at Emory University before delivering remarks. Before the trip, Biden ordered all U.S. flags be flown at half-staff through sunset March 22.

The new administration faces multiple crises left behind from the previous four years — an ongoing deadly pandemic, the subsequent economic meltdown and a deeply divided country after the fallout of the 2020 election. But Biden and Harris face another issue that advocates say hasn't been given enough attention: growing hate crimes against Asian Americans.

A report released before the shootings in Atlanta from the organization Stop AAPI Hate said there were about 3,800 anti-Asian incidents in the past year — up by about 1,000 from its report the previous year. The report lists 48 anti-Asian acts tracked in Georgia.

Asian American women were more than two times likely to face hate-driven harassment than men, it says.

Donald Trump has been spotlighted as a main source of the anti-Asian incidents. The former president's xenophobic comments blaming China for the pandemic and racist language such as referring to the virus as the "kung flu" fueled hate against the communities.

"A lot of the racism that has been more prevalent over this last year because of COVID and the rhetoric placed in our communities around the COVID pandemic has definitely increased," Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, said. "Our communities felt those impacts. Our businesses were impacted both financially and some were physically attacked."

The growing racism toward the community has come at a time when AAPI voters have found their voice in Atlanta and across the country. The community's rising population in the metro Atlanta suburbs played a role in helping the state back a Democratic candidate and electing Harris, the first Black person, woman and South Asian American, to the second highest office in the country.

"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," Harris said Wednesday.

"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," she added.

Before the visit, AAPI leaders in the community pressed Biden for an audience. Leng Leng Chancey, executive director of advocacy group 9to5, a national advocate organization for working women, said "the community is in shock and people are trying to process what happened."

"We would welcome a meeting with him directly to share with (Biden)," she said. "What our demands and thoughts are during this time."

The state's Asian American legislators have called for a response from the General Assembly by pressing their colleagues to take action on gun control legislation. The body passed a hate crimes bill last year which also opened an avenue for the shooter — 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long — to be charged with a bias-motivated crime which would enhance his penalties. He has already been charged with eight counts of murder.

The hate crimes legislation includes protections for sex and gender, Atlanta Democrat Rep. Bee Nguyen said Thursday, based on the description from law enforcement that Long equated his violence to a "sex addiction," it could be charged as targeting women.

But Nguyen and her fellow lawmakers said more needs to be done to combat xenophobia, racism and sexism.

"A hate crimes law does not prevent hate killings," she said.