May 20, 2021
Joe Biden Signs COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act Speech Transcript
President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law on May 20, 2021. Read the transcript of his speech remarks here.
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Kamala Harris: (07:01)
All righty then. Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon. Let me start by saying to all of the leaders here thank you. Thank you. To the members of our United States Congress on both-
Kamala Harris: (08:03)
… to the members of our United States Congress on both sides of the aisle who helped pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. Thank you. And special things to Senator Mazie Hirono and Congresswoman Grace Meng for leading this incredible effort. And I know you did not do it alone, and there are many more I could name, a couple of whom I will. Among them, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Senator Jerry Moran, Congresswoman Judy Chu, Congressman Don Beyer, and Congressman Fred Upton. Because of you, history will remember this day and this moment when our nation took action to combat hate. Thank you all.
Kamala Harris: (09:38)
Around this time last year, when I was in the Senate, Senator Hirono and Senator Duckworth and I introduced a resolution in the United States Senate condemning the rise of anti-Asian sentiment in our country. At that time, more than 1,100 anti-Asian hate incidents had been reported since the start of the pandemic. Today, that number is more than 6,600. And I’m talking about incidents where businesses are being vandalized in our biggest cities and in our smallest towns. I’m talking about a 61 year old man getting kicked in the head. Two elderly women being stabbed while waiting for the bus. Eight people in Atlanta getting shoot on a Tuesday night. This violence, it did not come from nowhere. And none of it is new. In my life, my lived experience, I have seen how hate can pervade our communities.
Kamala Harris: (10:46)
I have served in the justice system, in the legislative branch, and in the executive branch. I have seen how hate can impede our progress. And I have seen how people uniting against hate can strengthen our country. Those here today are united. This bill brings us one step closer to stopping hate not only for Asian Americans, but for all Americans. It will expedite the Justice Department’s review of hate crimes, every type of hate crime. It will designate an official at the Department to oversee the effort, and it will expand efforts to make the reporting of hate crimes more accessible at the local and state levels. But after the President signs this bill today, our work will not be done. Here’s the truth. Racism exists in America. Xenophobia exists in America. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, it all exists and so the work to address injustice wherever it exists remains the work ahead.
Kamala Harris: (12:10)
My fellow Americans, it is my great honor to mention to say to you what you already know, we have a President of the United States in one Joe Biden who is committed to this work. He is determined to, I will quote from him, “Give hate no safe harbor.” And I’ll tell you first hand, I’ve seen what you know, his actions match his powerful words. It is my great honor to introduce the President of the United States, Joe Biden.
Joe Biden: (12:49)
Thank you. Please, please. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Susan, progress is possible. We’re moving. Good afternoon, everyone. I have said from the beginning of my campaign, Madam Speaker, that the campaign for President throughout, and you would call me and tell me to keep it up, was about bringing people together, about uniting the country. We need to unite as one people, one nation, one America. And that was the thing I was most often criticized about you, saying, “How can you unite the country?” We must unite the country. 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 too, elected officials were somewhat skeptical if it could be done. It’s just beginning, but I’m 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 Americans.
Joe Biden: (14:22)
One of them is standing together against hate, against racism, the ugly poison that as long haunted and plagued our nation. Today, I can say that, because of all of you and many of you sitting right in front of me, you’ve taken that first step. It’s an 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. But I want to thank the Majority Leader Schumer and I want to thank Speaker Pelosi for your leadership. I also want to thank the leader from the State of Kentucky for letting it go forward. It’s important. It’s important. Most of all, Mazie, Senator, I called you, Mazie, I apologize, Mazie, I call Chuck, Chuck, anyway. Senator Hirono, Senator Tammy Duckworth, who helped deliver this 94 to 1 vote.
Joe Biden: (15:34)
When you get involved, Tammy, you don’t screw around, 94 to 1. State Representative Grace Meng and Judy Chu who helped deliver a 364 to 62 vote in the House of Representatives. That’s incredible. I also want to thank, as I said, Republican members in Congress for their leadership, including Senator Moran and Senator Collins. I also want to thank, as I-
Joe Biden: (16:03)
… Collins. I also want to thank, as I said, and to all of the folks, all the people here today who were involved and 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. We simply haven’t seen this kind of bipartisanship for much too long in Washington. You’re showing that our democracy can work and deliver for the American people.
Joe Biden: (16:29)
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 about those feelings that they felt invisible, not seen. We heard how too many Asian-Americans had 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 when they let their kids out the door to go to school, or 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.
Joe Biden: (17:46)
Documented incidents of hate against Asian-Americans has seen a shocking spike as the vice president has outlined at the front of 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 suffered twice as many incidents of harassment and violence as Asian-American men.
Joe Biden: (18:17)
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. Lived here for generations, but still by some the other, the other. It’s wrong. 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 said we see you, and we are committed to stop the hatred and the bias.
Joe Biden: (19:21)
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 it partnership with the community to prevent these crimes, in addition to its other work to take on violent extremism and domestic terrorism.
Joe Biden: (19:53)
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 under-reported. 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.
Joe Biden: (20:25)
This law is going to make a difference. For example, the Department of Justice will issue clear guidance for state, city and tribal and law enforcement agencies on how to establish online reporting of hate crimes and 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 crime reports. Thanks to two families here today, will all help state and local governments ensure hate crime information is more accessible to the public.
Joe Biden: (21:06)
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’s immigrated from Lebanon in search of new beginnings who was gunned down in front of their home here in America, the United States of America, by a neighbor fueled by hate. Khalid and Heather were murdered on the same day, one year apart. 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 ask both families to please stand.
Joe Biden: (21:56)
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 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. I hope, I hope that every day that’s passed, the 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 and have gone through similar things. It’s hard. I really mean when I say thank you, thank you for being here. It takes a lot courage. Thank you.
Joe Biden: (23:13)
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’ll provide resources to create specialized hate crimes units, it will also help states create hotlines for hate crimes at state and local levels that will be accessible for people with limited English proficiency. It provides resources for training for state and local law enforcement to identify, investigate, and report these heinous crimes.
Joe Biden: (23:55)
But of all the good that the law can do, we have to change our hearts. We have to change the hearts-
Joe Biden: (24:03)
… we have to change our hearts. We have to change the hearts of the American people. I mean this from the bottom of 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.”
Joe Biden: (24:22)
My sister Valerie and I talk about it all the time. You got to speak up, speak up and speak out. It’s in 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 and we’re all hurt by this hate.
Joe Biden: (24:58)
It has a way of seeping through the cracks in the communities and children who, in fact, wouldn’t have crossed their mind. Words have consequences, as this 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.
Joe Biden: (25:37)
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 of that 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. 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 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.
Joe Biden: (26:46)
And think about this, I’m being literal, uniquely a product of a document. It 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.”
Joe Biden: (27:09)
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.
Joe Biden: (27:41)
I looked at this law that you all passed as maybe the first break, first significant break, on a moment in our history that has to be turned around. Not Democratic, Republican. 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 the history as a nation. This is the United States of America, for God’s sake.
Joe Biden: (28:32)
God bless you all. Particularly those who pushed this through, and continue to push it. Now I’m going to sign this bill, which is a great honor. I don’t know who’s calling, but tell them we’re busy. I was going to say, unless it’s my sister, but she’s here.
Joe Biden: (28:54)
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, I should put the table down in the middle of all of you and sign it down there. But thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Joe Biden: (29:22)
[crosstalk 00:29:22] All right. [crosstalk 00:29:22] I got a new way of doing it.
Mazie Keiko Hirono: (29:25)
Joe Biden: (29:25)
Oop, there you go. Sorry. [crosstalk 00:29:42] Thank you. Congratulations you all. [inaudible 00:29:42] All right, thank you.
Kamala Harris: (29:25)
Thank you, congratulations.
Joe Biden: (30:52)
[inaudible 00:30:52] before as I walked into my Grandpop’s house, every time he said, ” Joe, keep the faith.” My Grandmother would be, “No, Joe. Spread it.” [crosstalk 00:30:58].
Mazie Keiko Hirono: (30:57)
That’s nice. I’ll remember that.
Joe Biden: (31:01)
[crosstalk 00:31:01] All right. Hey General. How are ya, man. [inaudible 00:31:03].
Speaker 1: (31:03)
President Biden, are you confident there will be a ceasefire?
Kamala Harris: (31:08)
Thank you. Let’s go you guys. Press, let’s go. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (31:13)
Ladies and Gentlemen, please remain seated while the President and the Vice President depart.
Speaker 1: (31:13)
Mr. President are you confident-
Kamala Harris: (31:25)
[crosstalk 00:31:25] Let’s go guys, thank you. Thank you.
Richard Blumenthal: (31:39)
[inaudible 00:31:39] the best.
Joe Biden: (31:39)
No, he learned from you. [inaudible 00:31:39] How are you? Good job. Thank you.