Three days after 46-year-old black man George Floyd suffocated to death after a white police officer knelt on his neck, and in the wake of mass protests in Floyd’s home city of Minneapolis, presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden offered a brief statement, which was streamed from his increasingly familiar home studio.
While there was the occasional trail-off, Biden’s delivery was unusually forceful, especially for someone who’s had some difficulty connecting with voters during the quarantine period. The candidate began his message by noting that he’d just met with “most of” George Floyd’s family members: “Once again, we heard the words—and they heard them, ‘I can’t breathe.’ An act of brutality so elemental it did more than deny one more black man in America his civil rights and his human rights—it denied him of his very humanity. It denied him of his life.”
Biden then acknowledged that Floyd’s death was just the most recent in a horrific pattern:
The same thing happened with [Ahmaud] Arbery. The same thing happened with Breonna Taylor. The same thing happened with George Floyd. We’ve spoken their names aloud. We’ve cried them out in pain and in horror. We’ve chiseled them into our long-suffering hearts. They’re 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 this country still stains our nation today, and sometimes we manage to overlook it. We just push forward with the thousand other tasks in our daily life, but it’s always there. And weeks like this, we see it plainly that we’re a country with an open wound, and none of us can turn away. None of us can be silent. And none of us can any longer—can we hear the words I can’t breathe and do nothing.
Then, perhaps most crucially, Biden tied these deaths to the country’s long history of systemic racism, even going so far as to call it out by name:
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. Imagine if you had to have that talk with your child about not asserting your rights, taking the abuse handed out to them so, so, just so they could make it home. Imagine having the police called on you just for sitting in Starbucks or renting an Airbnb or watching birds.
This is the norm black people in this country deal with. They don’t have to imagine it. The anger and the frustration and the exhaustion, it’s undeniable. But that’s not the promise of America. It’s long past time we made the promise of this nation real for all people. You know, this is no time for incendiary tweets. This is no time to encourage violence. This is a national crisis, and we need real leadership right now. Leadership that will bring everyone to the table so we can take measures to root out systemic racism.
And while some might argue that “the promise of America” has historically meant exactly what the people of Minneapolis are facing today, Biden did at least acknowledge that, at the very least, this imagined promise has never been met:
We must commit, as a nation, to pursue justice with every ounce of our being. We have to pursue it with real urgency. We’ve got to make real the promise of America, which we’ve never fully grasped: that all men and women are equal, not only at creation, but throughout their lives.
Meanwhile, our current president, Donald Trump, scheduled his own press conference for 2 p.m. EST. He still had not appeared 20 minutes after the scheduled start time, instead tweeting at precisely 2:20 p.m. that his “looting leads to shooting” tweet from the previous night was meant as “a fact, not as a statement.” Then, at around 2:50 p.m., Trump finally appeared, at which point he spoke abut China for roughly 10 minutes before walking off. The president did not take questions.