Former Vice President Joe Biden lashed into President Trump over his response to the civil unrest in the nation following the death of George Floyd, accusing his likely 2020 rival of fanning "the flames of hate."
“When peaceful protesters are dispersed by the order of the president from the doorstep of the people’s house, the White House — using tear gas and flash grenades — in order to stage a photo op at a noble church, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle," Biden said Tuesday during a 30-minute speech at Philadelphia City Hall.
The presumptive Democratic nominee, who traveled outside of his home state of Delaware for the first time in more than two months since the coronavirus lockdown started, was referring to the riots and protests in Washington on Monday evening, during which some law enforcement used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear demonstrators from Lafayette Square. With the park cleared, Trump was able to walk to St. John's Church, where he delivered a law-and-order speech about the protests, threatening to deploy the military if they were not quelled.
The protests were sparked last week by the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. That officer has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Biden opened the speech by repeating Floyd's last words -- "I can't breathe" -- which became a rallying cry for protests against police brutality across the nation in 2014, when another black man, Eric Garner, died after a white police officer wrapped his arm around his neck.
"George Floyd's last words," Biden said. "But they didn't die with him. They're still being heard. They're echoing across this nation. They speak to a nation where too often just the color of your skin puts your life at risk. They speak to a nation where more than 100,000 people have lost their lives to a virus and 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment – with a disproportionate number of these deaths and job losses concentrated in the black and minority communities."
"And they speak to a nation where every day millions of people – not at the moment of losing their life – but in the course of living their life – are saying to themselves, 'I can’t breathe,' he said. "It’s a wake-up call for our nation. For all of us."
Biden called on Congress to act on police reform measures, including backing a bill from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., that would ban chokeholds. Other policies he backed were creating a national police oversight commission and supporting measures to establish a national standard for the police use of force. Biden also said he wanted to stop transferring excess military equipment to police forces.
"The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism, to deal with a growing economic inequity that exists in our nation, to deal with the denial of the promise of this nation made to so many," he said.