Joe Biden’s speech at Philadelphia City Hall on Tuesday tried to show a contrast to the way that President Donald Trump responded to the protests and discord following the death of George Floyd, as the presumptive Democratic nominee said that he would not “fan the flames of hate.”
“I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country – not use them for political gain,” Biden said.
“I’ll do my job and take responsibility. I won’t blame others. I’ll never forget that the job isn’t about me,” he said.
As Trump vowed to use militaristic force to respond to unrest in cities across the country, Biden’s speech emphasized the need for empathy and to address the nation’s racial wounds.
“The country is crying out for leadership,” Biden said. “Leadership that can unite us. Leadership that brings us together. Leadership that can recognize pain and deep grief of communities that have had a knee on their neck for a long time.”
Biden also commented on the spectacle of Monday evening, when federal officers used tear gas and flash grenades to clear the area around the White House, just before Trump trekked from the White House through Lafayette Square Park to stage a photo op in front of an historic 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.
“More interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people in his care. For that’s what the presidency is: a duty of care—to all of us, not just our voters, not just our donors, but all of us.”
He added, “The president held up a Bible. I just wished he opened it once in awhile instead of brandishing it.”
The speech was Biden’s first major address since the coronavirus pandemic forced him to isolate at his Wilmington, DL home, where he has given interviews, held fundraisers and made statements via video chat. All three major cable news networks covered the speech live.
Biden also called for police reform, including a ban on police chokeholds, and he said that Congress should act this month.
“People are angry. I’m angry. And we need that anger to compel us to move forward,” Biden said. “But needless destruction and violence that endangers lives and guts local businesses is no way forward.”
Biden called Floyd’s death a “wake-up call for our nation, for all of us.”
“’I can’t breathe.’ ‘I can’t breathe.’ George Floyd’s last words. But they didn’t die with him. They’re still being heard. They’re echoing across this nation,” Biden said.
“They speak to a nation where too often just the color of your skin puts your life at risk. 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.”
Trump’s campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson said, “Joe Biden’s campaign made it clear that they stand with the rioters, the people burning businesses in minority communities and causing mayhem, by donating to post bail for those arrested. He has obviously made the crass political calculation that unrest in America is a benefit to his candidacy.”