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‘Our silence is complicity’: Biden condemns ‘ugly poison’ of hate crimes in America

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Activists demonstrate following Tuesday night's shooting on March 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by AFP)

President Joe Biden says the United States has long been haunted by “the ugly poison” of racism and hate, telling Americans that “our silence is complicity” in the wake of this week’s mass shooting in Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent.

After meeting with leaders of Georgia’s Asian-American community on Friday, Biden delivered a speech at Atlanta’s Emory University and condemned the upsurge of violence against Asian Americans.

The president lamented that the bigotry and violence have been “often met with silence” in America, telling the grief-stricken community that, “We cannot be complicit.”

"Our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act," Biden said.

He noted that hate crimes against Asian Americans have been “skyrocketing” since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the US more than a year ago.

Asian Americans have been “attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed. They've been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed,” he added.

Former president Donald Trump repeatedly called COVID-19—which has now killed some 540,000 people in the United States — the “China virus” after the country where the deadly pathogen was first detected.

Biden, without mentioning Trump by name, took a swipe at his predecessor for making the insinuation, saying, “Words have consequences. It’s the coronavirus, full stop.”

Stop AAPI, a nonprofit organization that tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against Asian Americans, has recorded nearly 3,800 cases of attacks against the community in the US since last year, including verbal and physical assaults, discrimination and civil rights abuses.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ pre-scheduled trip to Atlanta was originally intended to focus on touting the benefits of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that he has recently signed into law.

However, the White House scrapped plans for a rally in the wake of the mass shooting.

The president began the trip with a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he boasted that his administration has managed to administer 100 million vaccine doses in 60 days.

This week’s carnage prompted Biden and his vice president to add a meeting with Asian-American leaders in Georgia’s largest city.

“The conversation we had today with the leaders, and that we're hearing all across the country, is that hate and violence often hide in plain sight. It's often met with silence,” he said.

Biden urged Congress to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which he said would speed up the federal response to hate crimes that have risen during the pandemic.

Biden and Harris stopped short of explicitly describing the Atlanta massacre as an instance of hate crime, but noted that—whatever the motive—the shooting did occur amid a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

“Racism is real in America and it has always been. Xenophobia is real in America and always has been -- sexism too,” Harris said.

Three massage parlors around Atlanta were targeted Tuesday, and a 21-year-old suspect was arrested in connection with the carnage. Robert Aaron Long faces eight counts of murder and one charge of aggravated assault.

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