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Biden condemns anti-Asian discrimination

Updated March 17, 2021 - 9:21 pm

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden spoke out again Wednesday about the national wave of violence and abuse directed at Asian Americans as investigators worked to determine the motive behind a killing spree in Georgia that left eight dead.

Federal and state officials, including those in Nevada, are alarmed at the rising rate of incidents and hate crimes targeting Asian Americans since the coronavirus pandemic was declared.

Biden has condemned recent attacks on Asian Americans but said he would wait to comment until the police, FBI and Justice Department determine the motivation behind the murders at three massage parlors near Atlanta.

“The investigation is ongoing. And the question of motivation is still to be determined,” Biden said at the White House.

“But whatever the motivation here, I know that Asian Americans are very concerned, because as you know I’ve been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple of months, and I think it is very troubling,” Biden said.

The president last week used a speech about the $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package to call the attacks on people of Asian descent “un-American,” and he noted that incidents have escalated since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in China.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 3 in 10 Asian Americans have experienced racial jokes and slurs since the pandemic began a year ago. Incidents were reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Suspect charged

In Georgia, the investigation continued into Tuesday’s massage parlor murders. Police charged Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man from Woodstock, Georgia, with killing eight people.

Most of the victims were Asian American women. Two were white, according to news reports from Georgia.

Long has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, officials said. He is being held in Cherokee County without bond. He waived his right to an attorney, officials said.

Police have yet to confirm a motive for the killings or whether they were hate crimes. Emergency calls that were made to police were for a robbery in progress.

“While the details surrounding the shooter’s motive continue to be examined, we cannot ignore that the majority of the victims were Asian American and that this horrific act comes amid a significant increase in hateful rhetoric and crimes directed at Asian Americans,” said Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Kentucky, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Long told police that Tuesday’s attack was not racially motivated. He claimed to have a “sex addiction,” and authorities said he apparently lashed out at what he saw as sources of temptation.

Authorities said they didn’t know if Long ever went to the massage parlors where the shootings occurred but that he was heading to Florida to attack “some type of porn industry.”

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden was briefed by Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray on “the horrific shootings last night in Atlanta.”

The president and vice president are scheduled to be in Georgia on Friday to tout the passage of the American Rescue Plan.

Rising concern

A spike in attacks on Asian Americans since the outbreak of the virus has alarmed public officials across the country, including those in Nevada, who have voiced concern over the racial overtones to the deadly violence.

Although Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has said no violent attacks have been reported in the Las Vegas Valley, the Clark County Commission is expected to vote next month on a resolution that condemns xenophobic violence aimed at Asian Americans.

The Nevada Legislature last year passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. Biden issued an executive order in January to address the escalation of inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric since the coronavirus pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization in March 2020.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up roughly 10 percent of the population in Nevada and are among the fastest-growing ethnic minorities in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Washington, some lawmakers pointed to recent characterizations by former President Donald Trump, who branded the coronavirus the “China virus,” and other public officials who have blamed the Asian country for the pandemic that has wreaked havoc worldwide.

“People who have loosened their language in this time of COVID-19 have made some racial slurs in the process that have cost many people dearly,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Durbin said the country needs to know about anti-Asian incidents and “make it clear that this is absolutely unacceptable.”

A study conducted by Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate in conjunction with San Francisco State University reported numerous slurs and attacks, including one from Nevada.

The Las Vegas incident involved a ride-hailing service driver who told an Asian American customer: “Damn, another Asian riding with me today, I hope you don’t have any COVID.”

The Stop AAPI Hate study conducted from March 2020 to February 2021 cited 3,795 hate incidents. Of those, 68 percent were verbal harassment, 20 percent were avoidance and 11 percent were physical assault.

Asian American women were 2.3 times more likely to report hate incidents, the study found.

The Las Vegas anecdote cited in the report was classified as shunning, or avoidance. The passenger said that once he was picked up, the driver leaned against the door with his head tilted toward the window in an attempt to stay physically away from the person in the back seat.

After the passenger told the driver to “have a nice day,” the driver responded: “You shouldn’t be requesting any more rides from anybody.”

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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