Mourning the loss of lives in a mass shooting by a white supremacist at a gurdwara in Wisconsin nine years ago, US President Joe Biden has admitted that there has been a rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans amidst the pandemic and promised to work with the community members to combat the scourge.
On August 5, 2012, a white supremacist opened fire inside the Oak Creek gurdwara in Wisconsin, killing seven people.
"On this day, in 2012, I was with another friend who's half Sikh--he's a Sikh. And we were dealing with 10 people shot in a hateful act of bigotry at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Seven people lost their lives that day. Today, we honour everyone impacted by the tragedy," Biden told reporters at the White House.
In an interaction with reporters after his meeting with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPP) civil rights leaders, Biden acknowledged that there has been a rise in hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We think about all the pain during this pandemic with the rise in hate crimes, harassment, bullying and other forms of bias against Asian-Americans," a CBS-affiliated television station quoted Biden as saying.
"It seems not to stop," he said.
Several Indian-Americans were invited to attend Biden's meeting at the White House.
The White House in a statement said President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with these leaders to discuss a wide range of issues, including the administration's ''Build Back Better Agenda''.
The conversation focused on the importance of combating the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, economic opportunity, commitment to equity, protecting the sacred right to vote, and immigration reform.
"During the meeting, the President and Vice President reiterated their promise to work together to ensure the needs of the diaspora of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA & NHPI) communities are heard, uplifted and met," it said.
Earlier on Thursday, Biden urged Americans to stand up to hate and bigotry and ensure that all are able to practice their faith without fear.
"Nine years ago today, we witnessed an act of unspeakable hate as a white supremacist shot ten people at a Sikh Temple," Biden tweeted.
Nine years ago today, we witnessed an act of unspeakable hate as a white supremacist shot ten people at a Sikh Temple. As we remember those we lost in Oak Creek, we must continue to stand up to hate and bigotry and ensure that all are able to practice their faith without fear.— President Biden (@POTUS) August 5, 2021
"As we remember those we lost in Oak Creek, we must continue to stand up to hate and bigotry and ensure that all are able to practice their faith without fear," the US president wrote as Sikhs in the country marked the ninth anniversary of the tragedy.
Indian-American rights leaders who attended the meeting were Seema Agnani from the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD); Satjeet Kaur from Sikh Coalition; Kiran Kaur Gill from Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF); and Neil Makhija from Indian American Impact.
In a separate statement, Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, thanked Biden for his "compassion" and a "strong stand" against hate and violence.
"The Sikh community was shaken by this tragedy and our community still is concerned about the hate-filled rhetoric being condoned by some political interest groups," he said.
"The White supremacist groups are on the rise in the recent years and are intimidating many other minority groups in America. President Biden and Vice-President Harris's stand is unambiguous on this critical issue. This is the most important message that our political leaders can send across the nation and the world," Mr Singh said.
Congresswoman Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), said: "Today, we remember and honour the seven victims of this domestic terror attack and rededicate ourselves to the values of peace and openness that characterise the Sikh religion."
"We must also finally reject the white supremacy, xenophobia and bigotry that continue to fan the flames of hate and put more lives at risk while taking action to end the gun violence that allows attackers to make their hatred fatal.
"Every American regardless of race, religion or ethnicity deserves to feel safe at home and in their own community," she said.
Nine years ago, the lives of innocent worshippers were taken in a senseless act of hate and violence at a Sikh gurdwara, Congresswoman Grace Meng said.
"These worshippers were targeted simply because of their religious identity, a pattern that is all too common in the Sikh Community," she said.
"As we continue to grieve with the victims' families and the Sikh community, we must reaffirm our commitment to combating hate and intolerance wherever it exists."
"We must continue to denounce these senseless killings rooted in xenophobia and bigotry and enact policies to protect all Americans from gun violence and racism," said Congressman Ted Lieu.
"In the nine years since a white supremacist took six beautiful lives and wounded four other loved ones as they worshipped at their gurdwara in Oak Creek, we have only continued to witness an abhorrent rise in hate, violence, and discrimination aimed at the AAPI community," Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said.