Joe Biden said Friday that Americans — white Americans, in particular — must be more than bystanders as the country struggles to address centuries of systemic racism.
In a five-minute speech from his home in Delaware, Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, addressed the tragedy of George Floyd, a black man who died this week after his neck was crushed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
The incident sparked days of protests and led to a dog whistle of a tweet from President Donald Trump, who called the protesters “thugs” and threatened that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
“We need to stand up as a nation, with the black community, with all minority communities, and come together as one America,” Biden said. “That’s the challenge we face.”
Biden said he had spoken with members of Floyd’s family. He also mentioned the recent cases of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man killed in Georgia in February after being pursued by white men, and Breonna Taylor, a black woman shot and killed in Kentucky in March after police forcibly entered her home on a search warrant. Biden also referred to “having the police called on you for … watching birds” — a reference to an incident this week in New York’s Central Park, where a white woman called police on a black birdwatcher who had asked her to leash her dog.
In a video of Floyd’s detainment, he can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” — a chilling reminder of the case of Eric Garner, a black man who died in 2014 after being put into a chokehold by a white New York police officer.
“The original sin of this country still stains our nation today and sometimes we manage to overlook it, we just push forward with a thousand other tasks in our daily life,” Biden said Friday. “But it’s always there. And weeks like this, we see it plainly, that we’re a country with an open wound. None of us can turn away. None of us can be silent. None of us can any longer … hear the words I can’t breathe and do nothing.”
Biden was criticized last week after telling a black radio host that “you ain’t black” if you can’t understand the difference between Biden and Trump. On Friday, his appeal for healing often sounded as if it were pointed at white and privileged communities.
“The pain is too immense for one community to bear alone,” he said. “I believe it’s the duty of Americans to grapple with it, and to grapple with it now. With our complacency, our silence, we are complicit in perpetuating these cycles of violence. Nothing about this will be easy or comfortable, but if we simply allow this wound to scab over once more, without treating the underlying injury, we’ll never truly heal. The very soul of America is at stake.”
The “soul of the nation” has been a prevalent Biden campaign theme, rooted in his disgust with how Trump handled the 2017 white supremacist riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Trump has asserted that there were “very fine people on both sides.” Biden has said that moment helped clarify his decision to stage a third run for president. He did not mention Trump by name in his Friday speech, choosing instead to briefly allude to the president's angry rhetoric.
“This is no time for incendiary tweets,” Biden said. “It’s no time to encourage violence. This is a national crisis. We need real leadership right now, leadership that will bring everyone to the table so we can take measures to root out systemic racism. It’s time for us to take a hard look at the uncomfortable truths. It’s time for us to face that deep open wound we have in this nation. We need justice for George Floyd. We need real police reform that holds cops to a higher standard that so many of them actually meet, that holds bad cops accountable, and repairs the relationship between law enforcement and the community they’re sworn to protect.”