Joe Biden's top spokeswoman said this week there was "no question" that former President Donald Trump's rhetoric about the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled danger to the Asian-American community.
"I think there's no question that some of the damaging rhetoric that we saw during the prior administration — calling COVID the 'Wuhan virus' or other things — led to perceptions of the Asian American community that are inaccurate, unfair, has elevated threats against Asian Americans," Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday.
Psaki's comment came less than a day after eight people were killed during a Georgia shooting spree at three Asian spas.
Six of the eight victims were Asian women, and the slayings — against a backdrop of rising violence against Asians in parts of the U.S. — sparked a nationwide outcry against racist acts of violence.
Police say the suspected shooter, a 21-year-old man, confessed. They said he seemed to have a sex addiction and the spas were "a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate." He "may have frequented some of these places in the past," the Cherokee County sheriff said.
"Even before the horrific events of last night, [President Biden] felt it was important to raise this issue," Psaki, 42, said Wednesday.
She noted that Biden did not want to comment on motive in the spa shootings amid the law enforcement investigation.
She also pointed to Biden's primetime television address last week, in which he denounced hate crimes against the Asian community.
"It's wrong, it's un-American and it must stop," the president said.
While U.S. politicians around the country — including Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama — spoke out about violence on Wednesday, Trump did not.
A spokesman for Trump, 74, did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment on Tuesday's shooting. Since leaving the White House, the former president has been issuing regular statements on other developments of the day.
During his time in office, Trump drew outrage over repeatedly using racist rhetoric.
As the pandemic spread last year, he took to referring to it as the "China virus" or "Wuhan virus" or even "kung flu," despite his own health officials recommending otherwise.
"Ethnicity is not what causes the novel coronavirus," then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a congressional hearing last year.
Trump repeated the term "China virus" again on Tuesday night during a Fox News interview, around the same time Georgia authorities were in the process of apprehending the suspect in the spa shootings. (Last March, he had insisted the language was "not at all" racist.)
Psaki said Wednesday that Biden, 78, "will continue to look for ways to elevate and talk about this issue going forward." The president signed an executive order in January condemning the increase in racism toward the Asian/Pacific Islander community since the pandemic began.
Biden did not explicitly name Trump in the order, but wrote that some politicians' emphasis on the geographical origin of COVID-19 has "stoked unfounded fears and perpetuated stigma about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and [has] contributed to increasing rates of bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI persons."
To learn more and to report crimes, go to: Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Stop the AAPI Hate, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA, and Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council.
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