In his first major address in weeks, former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday promised not to “fan the flames of hate” if elected president and instead seek “to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued” the United States.
Speaking in Philadelphia – a city rocked by sometimes violent protests in recent days – Biden took aim at President Donald Trump’s handling of the wave of demonstrations across the country over racism and police misconduct.
Biden, a Democrat who will most likely face the Republican Trump in the November 3 election, was particularly critical of the president’s decision on Monday to stand for a photo beside an historic church across from the White House after law enforcement authorities tear-gassed protesters to clear the area.
“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.
Biden said Trump’s “narcissism has become more important than the nation that he leads” and that the “president today is part of the problem and accelerates it”.
Trump is “consumed with his blinding ego,” he added.
Cities nationwide have seen widespread protests since George Floyd, an African American man, died at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25.
Biden described Floyd’s death as “a wake-up call for our nation” and said “the moment has come” to deal with systemic racism and deeply ingrained economic inequality in the US. He insisted that the nation cannot wait until November’s election to address the issues.
“I call on the Congress to act this month,” Biden said, urging lawmakers to start “with real police reform” and citing proposed legislation outlawing choke holds.
“I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate,” he said.
.@JoeBiden told President Trump he should open a Bible and then the Constitution to read the First Amendment. Biden says Americans will not "allow any president to quiet our voice." @cbsnews pic.twitter.com/5J43eoYVUC
— Bo Erickson CBS (@BoKnowsNews) June 2, 2020
At least five US police officers were shot and wounded during violent protests over Floyd’s death, police and media said, hours after Trump promised on Monday to deploy the military if unrest did not stop.
Biden is aiming to strike a careful balance between validating anger over police mistreatment of minorities while condemning violence as a response.
His speech on Tuesday marks the first time he has left his home state of Delaware since mid-March when the coronavirus outbreak forced him to campaign largely from his house.