US President Joe Biden called for unity and urged Congress to pass legislation to tackle hate crimes against Asian-Americans on Friday, following meetings with community activists in Atlanta, where eight people – including six Asian women – were killed in mass shootings on Tuesday. The “ugly poison” of racism has “long haunted and plagued our nation,” Biden said in a public address, urging those who witness hate towards and violence against Asian-Americans to speak up. “Our silence is complicity,” Biden said. “We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.” Biden’s remarks came during a trip with Vice-President Kamala Harris to the Georgia capital, where the two met behind closed doors with Asian-American community organisers and state officials. Biden described remarks made by the participants, which included Georgia state representative Bee Nguyen and state senator Sheikh Rahman, as “heart-wrenching”. An original plan to host a political event in Georgia about the pandemic recovery was scrapped out of respect for the victims of Tuesday’s shootings, while Biden also ordered all federal and military buildings to fly the US flag at half-staff. Biden on Friday endorsed pending legislation that would designate a point person in the Justice Department to expedite investigations into hate crimes related to Covid-19. Introduced by Grace Meng, Democrat of New York, the Covid-19 Hate Crime Act also includes provisions around public education campaigns and would establish online hate crime reporting portals in multiple languages. Biden also urged the Senate to pass legislation to combat violence against women. More than 170 Republicans opposed the measure, which reauthorises the lapsed Violence Against Women Act, when it was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Speaking before Biden, Harris stressed that anti-Asian racism in the United States had a long history, ranging from laws against Chinese railway workers from owning property in the 1860s and the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s to the scapegoating of Muslims following 9/11. More recently, the past year had seen those with the “biggest pulpits spreading this kind of hate”, Harris, the first Asian-American to serve as the country’s vice-president, said in a swipe at former president Donald Trump. The address came as authorities released more information about the victims of Tuesday’s attacks, with all eight of those killed now known to be: Xiaojie Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; Yong Ae Yue, 63; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; and Paul Andre Michels, 54. The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, has confessed to the attacks and faces charges on eight counts of murder. Atlanta shooting: Xiaojie Tan was about to celebrate her 50th birthday. A gunman ended her life While noting that investigations into the motive behind Tuesday’s attacks were still ongoing, Biden said the administration knew that “too many Asian-Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying, waking up each morning for the past year feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones are at stake”. “Hate can have no safe harbour in America,” Biden said. “It must stop. It’s on all of us, all of us together, to make it stop.” Rights groups have documented a significant spike in assaults and harassment of Asian-Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since last March, the coalition Stop AAPI Hate has received almost 3,800 reports of violence and discrimination against Asian-Americans. Activists, experts and lawmakers have pointed to political rhetoric from public officials as a catalyst for the attacks, particularly that of Trump, who publicly used racist terms like “kung flu” and “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus . “We’ve always known: words have consequences,” Biden said on Friday. “It’s the ‘coronavirus’, full stop.” One of the first executive orders signed by Biden was a condemnation of anti-Asian racism, which included prohibition of any racialised language in government communications about the coronavirus. As well as those killed in Georgia, other victims of recent attacks include an elderly woman who was punched in the eye in San Francisco on Wednesday. The alleged assailant struck the woman as he was being chased by a security guard after hitting an 83-year-old Asian man, San Francisco police said. A Korean-American couple said last weekend a white woman unleashed an expletive-laden tirade at them, telling them to “go back to Communist China”. Part of the exchange was captured on video showing the woman ask, “well isn’t that where you’re from?”, when asked to repeat her comments. On Friday, the woman was identified by WABC-TV as Maura Moynihan, the daughter of the late US senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In a statement she provided to the network, she claimed the incident had “nothing whatsoever to do with any bias” and offered to meet the victims. Moynihan regularly appears on right-wing media platforms – including that of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon – to denounce the Chinese government, and in 2005 met the Dalai Lama. In her statement to WABC-TV, she cited her past advocacy work for Tibetans as a defence against accusations of racism. The victims of the racist assault, Maria Ha and Dan Lee, rejected that defence. “Just because she’s done all these things in the past does not justify what she said,” Lee told WABC-TV. The couple rejected Moynihan’s offer for a meeting.