Updated Jun 2, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden: George Floyd's last words are "a wake-up call for our nation"


Former Vice President Joe Biden meets with clergy members and community activists during a visit to Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del. on June 1, 2020. Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Joe Biden is calling George Floyd’s dying words “a wake-up call for our nation,” and criticized President Trump’s decision to unleash tear gas on peaceful protesters outside the White House, in a civil rights speech from Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Biden in the address drew a sharp contrast between himself and Trump, whose first remarks addressing nationwide unrest Monday highlighted law and order, extreme demonstrations of militarized “strength” and other blustery threats.

What he's saying: Floyd's dying words, “I can’t breathe,”  are still "echoing across this nation," Biden said in the ornate Mayor's Reception Room in City Hall.

  • "They speak to a nation where too often just the color of your skin puts your life at risk," Biden said. 
  • "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."
  • "It’s a wake-up call for our nation," Biden said. "For all of us."

Biden called on Congress to act on police reform measures, endorsing a bill by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D- N.Y.) that would outlaw chokeholds.

  • He also supported measures to create a national standard for the police use of force and to stop transferring excess military equipment to police departments.
  • Biden said he will create a national police oversight commission in the first 100 days of his presidency.
  • “We need each and every police department to undertake a comprehensive review of their hiring, training and de-escalation practices,” Biden said.

Shortly before Trump's address on Monday, law enforcement officials used physical force and tear gas to break up a group of peaceful protestors to clear Lafayette Park, north of the White House, so that Trump could walk to a historic church that was damaged by fire on Sunday, to "pay respects."

  • "[W]e can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle," Biden said about the move.

Biden indicated America is a long way from achieving justice, and that Trump "is part of the problem, and accelerates it." He recalled Trump's tweet which appeared to glorify violence in Minneapolis in the first several days of the city's unrest.

  • "They weren't the words of a president, they were the words of a racist Miami police chief in the 1960s."
  • Biden called Trump's tweet threatening to greet protesters at the White House with dogs "the kinds of words Bull Connor would've used unleashing his dogs on innocent women and children," comparing Trump to the racist Birmingham public safety official known for unleashing fire hoses and police attack dogs on mostly-black protesters in the 1960s.
  • "I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate," Biden said. "I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country – not use them for political gain."

Morning Consult data from this past weekend shows Biden leading Trump by double digits on trust in addressing police reform and racial inequalities.

  • Biden leads Trump on addressing racial inequalities (47% to 30%) and police reform (44% to 32%).
  • Biden’s advantage over Trump on addressing racial inequalities carried across black voters (56 percentage points), college-educated whites and suburban women (26 percentage points) and voters over 65 years old (10 percentage points).

Of note: Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state, holds its primary today.

  • Then-candidate Barack Obama gave his important 2008 speech on race in Philadelphia 
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