Philadelphia – Joe Biden called on Congress not to wait for the November election to begin to address inequities in economic opportunity and criminal justice that disproportionately affect African Americans and have been the underlying cause of protests sweeping across the U.S.
“No more excuses, no delays,” Biden said in a speech to a small audience at Philadelphia City Hall Tuesday morning.
“The action will not be completed in the first 100 days of my presidency if I’m elected or even my entire term,” he said.
He said Congress should pass police reform measures, including a bill that bars police from using choke holds, a procedure that killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, in New York City.
Biden also exhorted voters to consider that achieving justice is hard work.
“American history isn’t a fairy tale, with a guaranteed happy ending,” he said. “Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be?”
Biden’s speech, carried live by cable networks, was scheduled shortly after police dispersed peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park across the street form the White House with tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades so that President Donald Trump could walk out of the White House to stand in front of historic St. John’s church for a photo.
“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.
He focused part of his speech on the need to fix the underlying problems that sparked the unrest
“In order to have true American justice, we have to have economic justice as well,” Biden said. He urged lawmakers to ensure that funds designed to fight the recession caused by coronavirus shutdowns go to people of color who have lost jobs and gotten sick in higher rates than white Americans.
“These last few months we’ve seen Americans true heroes. We’ve come up with a new phrase for them, ‘essential workers,’” he said. “We need to do more than praise them, we need to pay them.”
He also slammed Trump’s efforts to undo Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare expansion.
He castigated Trump for fanning “the flames of hate” and sought to reassure a nation on edge from days of protests around the country that have led the president to call for military intervention.
Protests, some violent have erupted coast to coast following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, while in police custody. Americans are expressing their rage at police brutality, many wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted American life.
Floyd, whose death was captured on video, was telling police he couldn’t breathe as an officer knelt on his neck. Biden said the words “I can’t breathe” are “echoing across the nation.”
“They speak to a nation where too often just the color of your skin puts your life at risk,” he said.
Trump has threatened to send in the military to quell the protests, criticizing the nation’s governors on a call Monday for not responding with enough force.