Calling the death of a black man in Minnesota after being pinned to the ground by police officers and the resulting violent protests in cities across the country a “national crisis,” former Vice President Joe Biden on Friday stressed that “we need real leadership right now.”
And the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee – reacting to tweets by President Trump calling the protesters “THUGS” and pledging to use force to suppress the rioting and “get the job done right” – said that “this is not time for incendiary tweets” and accused the president of encouraging violence.
Biden’s on camera speech came a couple of hours after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz promised swift justice in Monday’s death of George Floyd. The 46-year old black died after a white Minneapolis police officer put his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes, as Floyd -- who was handcuffed -- repeatedly said “I can’t breathe.” He died a short time later at a nearby medical facility.
By Tuesday morning, the video of the incident recorded by a bystander had gone viral across the nation — sparking violent protests and rioting in Minnesota and in other parts of the country -- and putting the killing and the broader issue of racial injustice at the hands of law enforcement back into the national spotlight. On Friday, the white officer who put his knee to Floyd’s throat was taken into custody and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Biden announced that he had spoken with Floyd’s family, saying “thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I promise you, I promise you, we’ll do everything in our power to see to it that justice is had.”
The president tweeted late Thursday night that “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd and I won’t let that happen.”
Trump also vowed to “get the job done right” if the city and state couldn’t handle the protests, adding “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you.”
Biden – responding on Friday – emphasized that “this is not time for incendiary tweets. 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.”
“With our complacency, our silence, we are complicit in perpetuating these cycles of violence,” Biden added, in what appeared to be an indirect swipe at the president. “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’s at stake.”
The Trump re-election campaign – firing back – noted that the president “expressed horror over the killing….and ordered the Department of Justice to get involved. When riots erupted…he warned on Twitter that looting could quickly turn into violence.”
And campaign manager Brad Parscale charged Biden, Democrats, and the mainstream media of “purposefully misrepresenting what the President had said, and showing once again that they are incapable of resisting their base impulse of dividing Americans, solely for the purpose of political gain, ratings, and cable news profit.”
Biden – who’s made healing and unifying the nation and correcting long-standing racial injustices the centerpiece of his presidential campaign – stressed that the death of Floyd and other African Americans who died at the hands of the police in high-profile cases the past decade are “the latest additions to the endless list of stolen potential wiped out unnecessarily. It’s a list that dates back more than 400 years – black men – black women – black children. The original sin of our county still stains our nation today.”
He noted that “every day African Americans go about their lives with a constant anxiety wondering ‘who will be next.’ Imagine if every time your husband or son, wife or daughter, left the house, you feared for their safety from bad actors and bad police.”
And he spotlighted that “this is a norm black people in this country deal with. They don’t have to imagine it. The anger and frustration and exhaustion is undeniable.”
The former vice president stressed that now’s the “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. That repairs the relationship between law enforcement and the community they’re sworn to protect.”
And he urged that “we need to stand up as a nation with the black community – with all minority communities – and come together as one America.”
Biden’s address on Friday came one week he apologized during a conference call with black business leaders for controversial comments he made hours earlier on the popular morning radio program "The Breakfast Club." Biden had told host Charlamagne tha God that "if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black."
Biden – who served for eight years as vice president under President Barack Obama -- has long enjoyed strong support in the African-American community. And their votes were crucial to his capturing of the Democratic nomination.