President Joe Biden has urged Americans to speak up against hate, warning that “our silence is complicity” in the face of racist acts.

Mr Biden made the remarks in Georgia where he met Asian-American leaders in the wake of Tuesday’s attack on three Atlanta-area massage parlours.

The shootings left eight dead, including six Asian women.

Though police have not called race the motive for the attack, it came amid a spike in anti-Asian violence.

Hate crimes against people of East Asian descent have risen during the Covid-19 pandemic, and racism has been an “ugly poison that has long haunted and plagued our nation,” one that Americans must work to extinguish, Mr Biden said.

media captionAnti-Asian violence: ‘I thought I wouldnt make it’

Mr Biden also urged Congress to pass the coronavirus-related hate crimes bill introduced earlier this month by two Asian-American lawmakers.

The Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act would bolster Justice Department efforts to combat such acts.

The bill would “expedite the federal government’s response to the rise of hate crimes exacerbated during the pandemic, support state and local governments to improve hate crimes reporting, and ensure that hate crimes information is more accessible to Asian American communities,” the White House said.

There has been a sharp rise in attacks on Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic, which activists have linked to rhetoric blaming Asian people for the outbreak.

However, Mr Biden added that “for all the good that laws can do, we have to change our hearts”.

“Hate can have no safe harbour in America. It has to stop,” he said.

“It’s on all of us, all of us together, to make it stop.”

On Friday, local officials released the full names of all eight victims in the attack on three Atlanta-area Asian massage parlours. They are:

  • Daoyou Feng, 44
  • Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33
  • Hyun Jung Grant, 51
  • Paul Andre Michels, 54
  • Soon Chung Park, 74
  • Suncha Kim, 69
  • Xiaojie Tan, 49
  • Yong Ae Yue, 63

A ninth person – Elcias Hernandez Ortiz, 30 – is still in hospital with his injuries.

The Georgia Sheriff’s Office investigating the shootings removed its spokesman from the case on Thursday after social media posts emerged showing Captain Jay Baker promoting a T-shirt that called Covid-19 an “imported virus from CHY-NA”.

Mr Baker has faced intense criticism since his comments at the first press conference after the shooting, in which he claimed the murder suspect, Robert Aaron Long, had “a really bad day”.

Also on Friday, Mr Long’s church condemned his “sinful heart and depraved mind”.

“We want to be clear that this extreme and wicked act is nothing less than rebellion against our Holy God and His Word,” the Crabapple First Baptist Church said. “The shootings were a total repudiation of our faith and practice, and such actions are completely unacceptable and contrary to the gospel.”

media captionAtlanta shootings: “It’s scary just to be an Asian American woman”