Joe Biden pledges to 'root out racism' as USA reels from Atlanta shooting

People pay tribute to the people who were shot dead in Atlanta. Credit: AP

President Biden has said hate would have "no safe harbour" in America, as he visited visited Atlanta just days after a white gunman killed eight people, most of them Asian American women.

The president and vice president Kamala Harris visited Atlanta on Friday to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the killings at three massage businesses across the city.

Tuesday’s killings come after a spike of anti-Asian violence across the United States.

Addressing the nation after meeting with Asian American state legislators and other leaders, President Biden said it was “heart wrenching” to listen to their stories of the fear among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders amid what he called a “skyrocketing spike” of harassment and violence against them.

“We have to change our hearts,” he said. “Hate can have no safe harbour in America," he said.

Joe Biden speaks after meeting with leaders from Georgia's Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. Credit: AP

Biden called on all Americans to stand up to bigotry when they see it, adding: “Our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit.”

“They’ve been attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed; they’ve been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed,” Biden said of Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

The president also called the shootings an example of a “public health crisis of gun violence in this country,” as his administration has come under scrutiny from some in his own party for not moving as swiftly as promised on reforming the nation’s gun laws.

Could Kamala Harris one day be US president? Credit: AP

VP Harris, the first person of South Asian descent to hold national office in the US, said that while the motive of the shooter remains under investigation, these facts are clear: Six of the eight killed were of Asian descent and seven of them were women.

“Racism is real in America. And it has always been. Xenophobia is real in America, and always has been. Sexism, too,” she said.

“The president and I will not be silent. We will not stand by. We will always speak out against violence, hate crimes and discrimination, wherever and whenever it occurs.”

Flowers outside Youngs Asian Massage parlour Credit: Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

She added that everyone has “the right to be recognised as an American. Not as the other, not as them. But as us.”

The presidential trip to the city in Georgia was planned prior to the shooting, as part of a victory lap aimed at selling the benefits of the $1.9trillion coronavirus pandemic relief bill.

However, Biden and Harris will instead focus their efforts on consoling the community whose growing voting power helped them win the state of Georgia and beyond.

Asian-Americas are the fastest-growing racial demographic in the US, and their political influence has been felt across the country.

Long was arrested as a suspect in the fatal shootings of multiple people at three Atlanta-area massage parlours Credit: Crisp County Sheriff’s Office via AP

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, typically dominated by Democrats, has its largest roster ever, including Asian American and Pacific Islander members and others who represent significant numbers of Asian Americans.

“We’re becoming increasingly more visible and active in the political ecosystem,” said Georgia state Senator Michelle Au, a Democrat who represents part of the growing, diversifying suburbs north of the city.

Yet, Au said, “What I’ve heard personally, and what I have felt, is that people sometimes don’t tend to listen to us.”

Activists say they saw a rise of racist attacks.

Shootings at two massage parlours in Atlanta and one in the suburbs have left multiple people dead Credit: Brynn Anderson/AP

Nearly 3,800 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting centre for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and its partner advocacy groups, since March 2020.

In his first primetime address to the nation as president, Biden last Thursday — five days before the Atlanta killings — called attacks on Asian Americans “un-American.”

“To have them talk about it in this way, so publicly, and to say AAPI, or to note that our communities are going through difficult times, is huge,” Au said.