Remarks on Signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act
The President. Thank you. Thank you. Please, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Susan, progress is possible. We're moving.
Good afternoon, everyone. As I said from the beginning of my campaign, Madam Speaker, that the campaign for President—throughout, you would call me and tell me, "Keep it up"—was about bringing people together, about uniting the country. We need to—reunite—we need to unite as one people, one Nation, one America. And that was the thing I was most often criticized about, saying, "How can you unite the country?" We must unite the county.
I said it in my kickoff speech in Philadelphia. I said it again when I spoke at Gettysburg. And I emphasized it in my Inaugural Address. A lot of people—press, to elected officials—were somewhat skeptical that could be done. It's just beginning, but I am confident we can do this and so much more. And I believe, with every fiber of my being, that there are simple core values and beliefs that should bring us together as America—as Americans.
One of them is standing together against hate, against racism, the ugly poison that has long haunted and plagued our Nation. Today I can say that because of all of you—many of you sitting right in front of me—you've taken that first step. This important step.
I'd like to thank the Congress and the Members who are here today, Democrats and Republicans, who came together to get the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on my desk. Well, on a desk I'm about to sign on. [Laughter]
But I want to thank the Majority Leader Schumer, and I want to thank Speaker Pelosi for your leadership. I also want to thank our—the leader from the State of Kentucky for letting it go forward. It's important. It's important. Most of all, Mazie—I shouldn't have—Senator. I called you "Mazie." I apologize, Mazie.
Senator Mazie K. Hirono. It's okay. [Laughter]
The President. I called Chuck "Chuck." Anyway. [Laughter]
Senator Hirono, Senator Tammy Duckworth who helped deliver this 94-to-1 vote. When you get involved, Tammy, you don't screw around. You just—[Laughter]—94-to-1.
State Representative Grace Meng and Judy Chu, who helped deliver a six hundred and—excuse me—364-to-62 vote in the House of Representatives. That's incredible.
I also want to also thank, as I said, Republican Members in Congress for their leadership, including Senator Moran and Senator Collins.
And I also want to thank the—as I said—and to all of the folks, all of the people here today who are involved in—those of you, whether you're in the Congress or not, supporting this effort, I say: Thank you, thank you, thank you. We've got a lot more to do. But we simply haven't seen this kind of bipartisanship for much too long in Washington. You're showing our—that our democracy can work and deliver for the American people.
Just days after the mass shooting in Atlanta area, the Vice President Harris and I—we went down to Atlanta to meet with Asian Americans and the community across Georgia. It was a raw and emotional visit we had. We heard about their pain, their fear, anger, and all that existed in the community. And the feelings were—about those feelings that they felt invisible, not seen.
We heard how too many Asian Americans have been waking up each morning this past year genuinely—genuinely—fearing for their safety just opening the door and walking down the street and safety for their loved ones. The moms and dads who, when they let their kids out the door to go to school, were worried.
Attacked, blamed, scapegoated, harassed during this pandemic. Living in fear for their lives, as I said, just walking down the street. Grandparents afraid to leave their homes even to get vaccinated, for fear of being attacked. Small-business owners targeted and gunned down. Students worried about two things: COVID-19 and being bullied.
Documented incidents of hate against Asian Americans have seen a shocking spike, as the Vice President has outlined at the front of which her comments. Let alone—let alone—the ones that have never been reported. Gut-wrenching attacks on some of the most vulnerable people in our Nation—the elderly, low-wage workers, women—brutally attacked simply by walking outside or waiting for a bus. Asian American women suffer twice as many incidents of harassment and violence as Asian American men.
And the conversation we had in Atlanta is one we're hearing all across the country, that all of this hate hides in plain sight—it hides in plain sight—and too often, it is met with silence: silence by the media, silence by our politics, and silence by our history.
For centuries, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders—diverse and vibrant communities—have helped build this Nation only to be often stepped over, forgotten, or ignored. You know, lived here for generations, but still considered, by some, the "other"—the "other." It's wrong. It's simply—to use the phrase—it's simply un-American.
My message to all of those of you who are hurting is: We see you. And the Congress has said: We see you. And we are committed to stop the hatred and the bias.
My first week in office, I signed a Presidential memorandum directing Federal agencies—all of them—to combat the resurgence of xenophobia. Not just one, every agency. Attorney General Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Associate Attorney General Gupta are all here today. The Department of Justice is strengthening its partnership with the community to prevent these crimes, in addition to its other work to take on violent extremism and domestic terrorism.
And with the new law—this new law, the Department of Justice and our entire administration is going to step up. Right now this is a critical problem of hate crimes being underreported.
It stems from two challenges. First, there's lack of resources and training for State and local law enforcement to accurately identify and report hate crimes to the FBI. Secondly, for more people in communities of color, there are language and cultural barriers in how to communicate what's happening to them. This law is going to make a difference. For example, the Department of Justice will issue clearer guidance for State, city, and Tribal, and law enforcement agencies on how to establish online reporting of hate crimes.
It will work with the Department of Health and Human Services to raise public awareness of COVID-19 hate crimes that occurred during the pandemic. There will also be a devoted official at the Department of Justice whose sole job is to expedite the review of hate crimes reports.
And thanks to two families here today, the law will help State and local governments ensure hate crime information is more accessible to the public: the family of Heather Heyer, a civil rights activist whose life was taken standing up to Nazis marching from the shadows of vengeance in Charlottesville; and the family of Khalid Jabara, a proud son of a family who immigrated from Lebanon in search of new beginnings, who was gunned down in front of their home here in America—in the United States of America—by a neighbor fueled by hate.
Khalid and Heather were murdered on the same day 1 year apart. And instead of sharing the dreams they had for their children, both families share profound grief. And they've shown incredible courage to turn their pain into purpose. I hope you'll not be offended, but I'd ask both families to please stand.
Folks, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for being here, because I know it's hard. No matter how celebratory it is, it's—a law is being changed—when you have to show up at something memorializing your family, it's like you got the news 10 seconds ago. It's the hardest thing to do. I know from experience, it takes enormous courage.
But I hope—I hope—that every day that's passed, a memory of your son and daughter brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. Because I promise you: A lot of people understand, have gone through similar things. It's hard. So I really mean it when I say thank you. Thank you for being here. It takes a lot of courage. Thank you.
Because of you, the amendment named in honor of Khalid and Heather is now law to make sure that hate crimes are more accurately counted and reported and, hopefully, leading to a continued focus on ending these crimes.
It will provide resources to create specialized hate crimes units that will also help States create hotlines for hate crimes at State and local levels that will be accessible for people with limited English proficiency. And it provides resources for training for State and local law enforcement to identify, investigate, and report these heinous crimes.
But of all the good that the law can do, we have to change our hearts. We have to change the hearts of the American people. Hate can—I mean this from bottom my heart—hate can be given no safe harbor in America. I mean it: no safe harbor.
It can't be dismissed like, "Well, that's just what happens." My sister Valerie and I talk about it all the time. You've got to speak up. Speak up and speak out. It's on all of us—all of us together—to make it stop.
My message is—to all of those who think this doesn't matter to them or this is not a problem: Look around. Look in the mirror. Look in the eyes of your children. Every one of us are lessened—every one of us are lessened, and we're all hurt by this hate. It has a way of seeping, sort of, through cracks in the communities and children who, in fact, wouldn't have crossed their mind.
Words have consequences, as the Senator knows—he preaches it, he understands it. Consequences. But silence is complicity. Silence is complicity. And we cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act. That's what you've done. And I can't thank you enough.
I'm proud today. I'm proud today of the United States. I'm proud today of our political system, the United States Congress. I'm proud today that Democrats and Republicans have stood up together to say something.
Let me close with this: Grief, as we all know, is universal, but so is hope, so is love. It sounds corny, but it really is. It really is. And hope and love can be contagious. We're the United States of America. We're a good and decent people.
We're unique among all nations in that we are uniquely a product of a document—not an ethnicity, not a religion, not a geography; of a document. And think about this—I'm being literal—uniquely a product of a document that says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Every time we're silent, every time we let hate flourish, you make a lie of who we are as a nation. I mean it literally. We cannot let the very foundation of this country continue to be eaten away like it has been in other moments in our history and happening again.
I looked at this law that you all passed as maybe the first break—the first significant break on a moment in our history that has to be turned around—not Democratic or—it has to be turned around.
As a consequence, we should do what is required by the obligations of this democracy, by our faith in God and our faith in each other to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly. And as fellow human beings and fellow Americans, remember: We're unique in all of history as a nation. This is the United States of America, for God's sake.
May God bless you all, particularly those who pushed this through and continue to push it.
And now I'm going to sign this bill, which is a great honor.
[At this point, a cell phone rang.]
I don't know who's calling, but tell them we're busy. [Laughter] I was going to say, "Unless it's my sister," but she's here. [Laughter]
So I'd like to invite to the stage Senator Hirono, Senator Duckworth, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Congresswoman Judy Chu, Congressman Don Beyer, Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Senator Moran, but I don't think he could be here today. Actually, he should have you—I should put the table down the middle of all of you and sign it down there.
But thank you, thank you, thank you. All right.
[The President signed the bill and distributed pens.]
Thank you. Congratulations to all. [Applause]
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:33 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Sen. Susan M. Collins; Senate Minority Leader A. Mitchell McConnell; and Stanley Vernon Majors, who was convicted in the murder of Khalid Jabara in Tulsa, OK, on August 12, 2016. He also referred to his sister Valerie Biden Owens.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350036