Joe Biden in Philly calls George Floyd's death a 'wake-up call for our nation'

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Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Joe Biden in Philly calls George Floyd's death a 'wake-up call for our nation'
Presidential candidate Joe Biden addressed the civil unrest occurring across the nation as well as President Donald Trump's response during a speech in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA -- Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden addressed the civil unrest occurring across the nation as well as President Donald Trump's response during a speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning.

Biden, speaking from Philadelphia City Hall, called the killing of George Floyd "a wake-up call for our nation."

"'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. And they speak to a nation where every day millions of people -- not at the moment of losing their life -- but in the course of living their life -- are saying to themselves, 'I can't breathe.'"

The former vice president and presumptive Democratic 2020 nominee described this moment in time as a "battle for the soul of our nation."

He condemned both police violence and President Trump's response to the unrest, specifically how peaceful protesters were dispersed from Lafayette Square outside the White House Monday evening using rubber bullets and tear gas to make way for the President's photo op at St. John's church.

"The president held up the Bible at St. John's Church yesterday. I just wish he opened it every once in a while instead of just brandishing it," Biden said. "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, a photo op, at one of the most historic churches in the country or at least Washington, DC, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle."

Joe Biden delivers remarks in Philadelphia on civil unrest across country

Biden said Trump is more interested in serving his base than the "needs of the people in his care."

"For that's what the presidency is: a duty of care -- to care to all of us, not just those who vote for us, but all of us; not just our donors, but all of us," Biden said.

Biden said, if he wins the presidency, he would call for reforms in Congress to address systemic racism. He said police choke hold should be outlawed and "weapons of war" should not be transferred to police departments.

Biden called for more oversight and accountability of police departments.

"It's time to pass legislation that will give true meaning to our constitutional promise of legal protection under the law," Biden said.

"I promise you this: I won't traffic in fear and division. I won't fan the flames of hate," Biden said. "I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country -- not use them for political gain. I'll do my job and take responsibility. I won't blame others. I'll never forget that the job isn't about me. It's about you. And I'll work to not only rebuild this nation. But to build it better than it was."

The Republican National Committee released the following statement in response to Biden's address:

"Joe Biden spent days hiding in his basement while the country was rocked to its core. When Joe Biden and his team finally emerged, their initial reaction was to bail out the criminals that burned, looted and destroyed Minneapolis. While livelihoods were decimated, the Biden team was focused on raising money to bail out the criminals arrested. President Donald Trump was focused on restoring peace and pursuing justice for George Floyd and the victims of the violence. A stark contrast in values." - Trump Victory Spokesperson Melissa Reed

In Philadelphia, tear gas was used as "a means to safely diffuse a volatile and dangerous situation" when protesters spilled onto an interstate highway just before a curfew took effect, the city's police commissioner said.

Police also fired nonlethal bullets into the crowd and halted traffic during the Monday evening rush hour, and more than two dozen people were arrested during ongoing protests following George Floyd's death and other recent racially charged killings.

Philadelphia officials defend decision to use tear gas on crowd of protesters

The crowds on Interstate 676 also led to the closure of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the main link from downtown Philadelphia to New Jersey suburbs.

Some climbed a steep embankment and scaled a fence as police acted, while others moved to block the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a grand thoroughfare leading from downtown to the city's imposing art museum.

The tear gas was used "when it became increasingly clear that other measures were ineffective" at dispersing the crowd, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. "We will continue to evaluate the propriety of all applications of force, and make determinations as the circumstances of each unique situation dictate," Outlaw added.

The protests had mostly been peaceful before its chaotic conclusion Monday.

It was among several staged across the country, inspired by the death last week of George Floyd, a black man who died after he was pinned by a white Minneapolis officer who put his knee on Floyd's neck.

The confrontation in Philadelphia came after the National Guard stationed vehicles outside City Hall and other downtown buildings, officials curtailed public transit, and city leaders put a curfew in effect for a third day Monday after a weekend of destruction that led to over 400 arrests.

Biden's visit comes as voters head to the polls for the Pennsylvania primary.

The primary date in the state was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Associated Press & CNN contributed to this report.