(March 18): Former President Donald Trump bears some responsibility for threats and violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, citing his offensive descriptions of the virus and its origins.
Psaki called out what she described as Trump’s “damaging rhetoric” about the virus after a series of shootings at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday in which a White man allegedly killed six Asian women and two others.
“There’s no question that some of the damaging rhetoric that we saw during the prior administration, blaming — calling Covid the Wuhan virus or other things — led to perceptions of the Asian-American community that are inaccurate, unfair, have raised threatening — has elevated threats against Asian-Americans,” Psaki said Wednesday at a briefing.
Trump frequently blamed the pandemic on China and occasionally described the virus in racist terms. Cases of the disease were first observed in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, and the U.S. and other countries have complained that the Beijing government has not been forthcoming about the virus’s origin.
A Trump spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
President Joe Biden said earlier Wednesday that U.S. investigators haven’t yet determined if the murders were a hate crime against Asian Americans, but he called the shootings “very, very troubling.”
The president, speaking in the Oval Office during a video meeting with Ireland’s prime minister, said he had been briefed by Attorney General Merrick Garland and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray.
On Wednesday night, Biden posted a message on Twitter saying, “we don’t yet know the motive, but what we do know is that the Asian-American community is feeling enormous pain tonight. The recent attacks against the community are un-American. They must stop.”
Jill and I are keeping everyone impacted by the shootings in Atlanta in our prayers. We don’t yet know the motive, but what we do know is that the Asian-American community is feeling enormous pain tonight. The recent attacks against the community are un-American. They must stop.
— President Biden (@POTUS) March 18, 2021
Police arrested Robert Aaron Long, 21, in connection with the murders. The Journal-Constitution reported that investigators said Long didn’t cite a racial motive in interviews, and that he frequented the kinds of businesses he allegedly attacked.
Vice President Kamala Harris earlier Wednesday condemned the violence in a St. Patrick’s Day virtual meeting with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin.
“We’re not yet clear about the motive,” Harris said. “But 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 that “none of us should ever be silent on any form of hate.”
On a visit to South Korea, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered condolences to the friends and families of those killed in the shootings.
“We are horrified by this violence which has no place in America or anywhere,” Blinken said ahead of a meeting with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong.
Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks anti-Asian violence, said it had received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents since mid-March 2020, around the time that the Covid-19 pandemic seized the U.S. More than 500 of those came in the first two months of 2021.
Former President Donald Trump frequently blamed the pandemic on China and occasionally described the virus in racist terms. Cases of the disease were first observed in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, and the U.S. and other countries have complained that the Beijing government has not been forthcoming about the virus’s origin.
In his first prime-time address to the country last week, Biden called out what he said were “vicious hate crimes” against Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic, saying that people had been “attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated” after the virus spread across the Pacific.
“At this very moment, so many of them — our fellow Americans — they’re on the front lines of this pandemic, trying to save lives, and still — still — they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,” Biden said. “It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop.”