Law enforcement authorities in cities across the US were on alert on Wednesday amid fears that a series of fatal shootings in Atlanta that killed eight had largely targeted victims because they were Asian Americans.
Six of those killed at three massage parlors in the Georgia city on Tuesday were women of Asian descent, leading to fears of a racial motive.
Suspect Robert Aaron Long, 21, was taken into custody after a police manhunt.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said in a statement on Wednesday morning that Joe Biden had been briefed overnight on the “horrific shootings” and that White House officials had been in contact with the Atlanta mayor’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, who was in Seoul meeting South Korea’s foreign minister, Chung Eui-yong, said he was “horrified” by the violence, which is understood to have killed four people of Korean ethnicity, and said it “has no place in America or anywhere”.
He offered his “deepest condolences” to family and friends of the victims and to “everyone in the Korean community who is shaken and deeply disturbed by this incident”.
Atlanta police said they had increased patrols in the area of the killings and that officers were dispatched to check similar nearby businesses.
In New York City, the police department’s counter-terrorism bureau said it was monitoring the shooting in Georgia and would deploy additional officers to Asian communities across the city “out of an abundance of caution”.
Seattle officials said they were increasing outreach to Asian Americans and community organisations across the city and police presence with police patrols and community service officers.
Both cities have very large majority-Asian neighbourhoods.
Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, and chief of police, Adrian Diaz, labelled the killings in Atlanta an “act of hate”.
“We grieve with Atlanta and for the victims and their families. We also stand together with our Asian American community against the rise of hate crimes towards Asian Americans, especially targeting Chinese Americans,” they said in a joint statement.
They added: “In Seattle and across our nation, our Asian American neighbours, places of worship, and businesses have been deliberately targeted by racism, xenophobia and acts of violence related to misconceptions of Covid-19.”
It follows a spike in attacks against Asian Americans nationwide since the coronavirus pandemic, which spread after initial infections in China.
The US advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate received 3,795 complaints last year and said there were at least 503 anti-Asian hate incidents reported between 1 January and 28 February this year alone.
Stop AAPI Hate said the shootings in Atlanta were “an unspeakable tragedy – for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the Asian American community, which has been reeling from high levels of racist attacks over the course of the past year.”
The organisation added: “This latest attack will only exacerbate the fear and pain that the Asian American community continues to endure.”
The California congresswoman Judy Chu said Asian Americans have “been facing a relentless increase in attacks and harassment over the past year” and urged people on Twitter to “condemn this violence, and help us #StopAsianHate”.
Los Angeles and San Francisco, in particular, have large Asian American neighborhoods and populations.
Derrick Johnson, president and chief executive of the civil rights campaign group the NAACP condemned the shootings “in the strongest possible terms”.
Last week, on the first anniversary of the Covid-19 shutdown, Joe Biden condemned the rise in attacks, whether verbal, online or physical, on Asian Americans, whom he said are “forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America”.
The president added: “It’s wrong. It’s un-American. And it must stop.”