On Friday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called for new hate crimes legislation following the horrific shooting that claimed lives of eight women in the Atlanta area, six of them Asian American. While Biden did not explicitly tie the shootings to hatred against Asian Americans or to the COVID-19 pandemic, he used the opportunity to explicitly endorse the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
There’s just one major problem with Biden’s remarks: there’s no evidence the Atlanta shooting was motivated by racism or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, FBI Director Christopher Wray told NPR, “it does not appear that the motive was racially motivated.”
In his remarks, Biden said he and Harris had met with leaders of the “Asian American community”* in Georgia and spoke about the horrific Atlanta-area shooting. He called the shooting “another example of public health crisis, of gun violence in this country.” He noted that the shooting claimed the lives of eight people, seven of them women and six of them Asian American. “Each one of them we mourn.”
Biden acknowledged that “the investigation is ongoing,” but he used the incident to address the horrific harassment Asian Americans have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying, waking up each morning the past year feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones are at stake. They’ve been attacked, blamed, scapegoated, and harassed. They’ve been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed,” he said.
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“Documented incidents of hate against Asian Americans have seen a skyrocketing spike over the last year, let alone the ones that happened and never get reported,” he argued. “In fact, Asian American women suffer twice as many incidents of harassment and violence as Asian American men. We’re learning again what we’ve always known: Words have consequences. It’s the coro- — it’s the coronavirus. Full stop.”
Biden argued that “hate and violence often hide in plain sight” and said, “our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.
“I’m calling on Congress to pass and get my — to get to my desk the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. And the House just passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a law I authored more than 25 years ago and is one of my proudest legislative achievements. I call on the Senate to swiftly pass it and get it to my desk,” the president said.
While most of the victims of the Atlanta shooting were Asian American women, that does not ipso facto make this horrific act of mass murder a “hate crime,” and there seems to be absolutely no connection between this shooting and the COVID-19 pandemic.
As COVID-19 vaccines spread across America, there is good reason to hope the pandemic is drawing near an end. It is indeed heinous that some Americans have targeted their fellow Americans of Asian descent for harassment during the pandemic. The fact that the virus originated in China obviously does not implicate Asian Americans in the pandemic and all Americans should condemn this senseless harassment.
Unfortunately, Harris falsely blamed former President Donald Trump for this harassment. Although the vice president did not mention Trump by name, she condemned people in positions of power who have been “scapegoating Asian Americans, people with the biggest pulpits spreading this kind of hate.”
While Trump did use the term “Chinese virus” to counter Chinese Communist Party propaganda — which claimed that Americans cooked up COVID-19 in a lab — Trump clearly stood with Asian-Americans and rightly condemned the harassment.
Biden echoed this claim by saying, “Words have consequences.”
In the first day after the shooting, Democrats rushed to blame “white supremacy,” echoing the logic of Marxist critical race theory, which claims a hidden “structural racism” is to blame for all racial disparities. It seems Democrats are itching for an excuse to politicize every tragedy that involves a racial minority.
Biden wisely refused to echo the “white supremacy” line, but he did seize upon the horrific shooting to push the COVID-19 hate crimes bill, even though the shooter’s motive appears to have more to do with misogyny — he said he wanted to remove “temptation” for his sexual addiction — than racism and even though the pandemic is drawing near to an end.
This horrific shooting rightly outrages Americans and the suspect should face the full extent of the law for this act of mass murder. Yet the truth behind the shooting remains unclear, and Biden seems intent to milk it for political purposes.
What disgusting political opportunism.
*Americans of Asian heritage do not often see themselves as part of an encompassing “Asian American community.” Rather, they more likely see themselves as Chinese American, Korean American, Japanese American, Vietnamese American, et cetera. It is extremely misleading to refer to the “Asian American community” — or, even worse, the “Asian American and Pacific Islander community,” as if all of these racial minorities lump themselves together. Such abstract “communities” are often the creation of political activists.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.