Former Vice President Joe Biden said the country is “crying out for leadership” amid nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd and accused President Trump of using force against peaceful protesters to stage a “photo op” near the White House on Monday.
In an address at City Hall in Philadelphia, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president said Floyd’s death in police custody was a “wake-up call for our nation, for all of us.” Floyd died after an officer pinned a knee on his neck for more than eight minutes.
“The country is crying out for leadership, leadership that can unite us,” Biden said.
Biden condemned Mr. Trump for his response to protests in the nation’s capital on Monday, when mostly peaceful protesters were tear-gassed and cleared from Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. Soon after, Mr. Trump walked through the park and posed for photos in front of historic St. John’s Episcopal Church.
“When peaceful protestors 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.
The former vice president nominee slammed Mr. Trump for “brandishing” a Bible while being photographed in front of St. John’s, saying: “I just wish he opened it every once in a while.” He said Mr. Trump should read the Constitution to understand the freedoms granted by the First Amendment.
“We will not allow any president to quiet our voice,” Biden said. He also addressed institutional racism, a root cause of the protests which have roiled the nation.
“The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism,” Biden said. He said police misconduct “should be dealt with severely and swiftly,” adding that the country also needed to address the “culture” that allows for police officers to conduct unjustified violence.
“We need each and every police department in the country to undertake a comprehensive review of their hiring, their training, and their deescalation practices,” Biden said. He added that Congress should make a “down payment” on this effort and pass legislation to outlaw police chokeholds and review police departments’ use of “weapons of war.”
Biden contrasted his style of leadership with Mr. Trump, who called himself “the president of law and order” on Monday.
“The president of the United States must be part of the solution, not the problem,” the former vice president said. “I ask every American: look at where we are now and think anew, ‘Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be?'”
“I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate. I’ll seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country — not use them for political gain,” Biden continued. “I’ll do my job and I will take responsibility. I won’t blame others. I will never forget, I promise you, this job is not about me. It’s about you. It’s about us. And I’ll work to not only rebuild this nation, but to build it better than it was.”
Biden is expected to deliver several addresses in the coming weeks on how the country should move forward after the nationwide protests and COVID-19 pandemic. He spent time on Monday listening to the concerns of political and religious leaders, including the mayors of St. Paul, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles.