President Biden, VP Harris visit Atlanta and meet Asian-American leaders

ATLANTA — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are in Atlanta today to meet with Asian-American leaders in the wake of the deadly spa shootings.

Biden and Harris arrived at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County around 1:15 p.m. and went to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where they received a briefing on the COVID-19 response in the United States.

The president and vice president also got a tour of the CDC headquarters and Biden delivered a pep talk to the agency’s scientists.

“We owe you a gigantic debt of gratitude and we will for a long, long, long time,” Biden said, adding that under his administration “science is back” driving policy to combat the virus.

We’ll have LIVE coverage of the visit throughout the evening on Channel 2 Action News

Following their visit at the CDC, Biden and Harris met with leaders from the Georgia Asian American and Pacific Islander community on Friday.

They talked about the mass shootings at three Asian-owned businesses and what many are saying is the rise in violence directed at the AAPI community.

“Hate can have no safe harbor in America,” Biden said, calling on Americans to stand up to bigotry when they see it. “Our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit.”

Biden said “it was heart wrenching to listen to” Asian American state legislators and other community leaders discuss living in fear of violence during their meeting before he and Harris delivered remarks at Emory University.

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

Channel 2′s Richard Elliot went to two of the spas along Piedmont Road in Atlanta where he found people still stopping by to leave flowers and cards outside the Gold Spa and at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street.

Originally, Biden was coming to Atlanta to go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and hold a political rally.

But after Tuesday’s mass shooting, all that changed.

Biden and Harris still met with officials at the CDC on Friday, but after that they met with leaders of Georgia’s AAPI community.

One of those leaders was Gwinnett County lawmaker Sam Park.

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“The leader of the free world is coming to hear the concerns of Asian Americans here in Georgia who have been so terrified and traumatized by this experience,” Park said.

Park and other AAPI lawmakers are pushing for prosecutors to invoke Georgia’s hate crime statute in the shootings.

They also told the president that they’ve become targets of racism and violence since the pandemic began, with some people blaming them for the virus.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear from business leaders, from folks that I’ve grown up with as a kid, being a native (of) Georgia, born and raised, to be scared to walk outside their door and the place that they call home,” Park said.

Elliot watched as dozens of people stopped by the Gold Spa on Piedmont Road and the Aromatherapy Spa across the street, just to leave flowers and cards of condolences.

One was Hyejin Lee, a pastor at a Korean church.

He prays that after hearing AAPI leaders, Biden will help heal the nation.

“I don’t know what kinds of things he can do, but I want to see that he just shows leadership of healing,” Lee said.

Following Biden and Harris’ visit, Park released this statement:

“Grateful to President Biden and Vice President Harris for meeting with us. They heard the heartbreak, fear, and anger of the Asian American community and shared our pain. President Biden’s empathy and understanding was comforting. VP Harris’ strength and determination was encouraging. Their commitment to continue to fight for all of us gave me hope. They reminded us that we are all in this together, that we are not alone, and that together we will overcome.”

Activists have seen a rise of racist attacks. Nearly 3,800 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and its partner advocacy groups, since March 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.