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Joe Biden, on defense from Trump attacks, steps up criticism of violence

Jon Ward
·Chief National Correspondent
·6 min read
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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Monday made his most aggressive rebuttal yet to President Trump’s claims that Americans will be less safe if the former vice president is elected in the Nov. 3 election.

“Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” Biden said in a 20-minute speech in Pittsburgh.

“I want a safe America: safe from COVID, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops,” Biden said. He added: “Let me be crystal clear: safe from four more years of Donald Trump.”

Biden, who has condemned violence several times since protests began in earnest in late May in Minneapolis following the killing of George Floyd, went out of his way to clarify that he does not condone any lawlessness.

“I want to make it absolutely clear: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple, and those who do it should be prosecuted,” Biden said.

“Violence will not bring change. It will only bring destruction. It’s wrong in every way. It divides instead of unites. ... It makes things worse across the board, not better. It’s not what Dr. King or John Lewis taught, and it must end.”

Joe Biden at a campaign event in Pittsburgh on Monday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Joe Biden at a campaign event in Pittsburgh on Monday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

The former vice president and U.S. senator from Delaware made his speech after more than a week of renewed protest over police shootings of Black men, which was overshadowed by unrest and violence in Kenosha, Wis., and other cities over the past weekend, including Washington, D.C.

One person was shot and killed in Portland, Ore., on Saturday night, following the shooting deaths of two people on Tuesday night in Kenosha during protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, on Aug. 23.

Trump and the Republican Party, after floundering in the polls all summer, have found a message that seems to be resonating: Biden is weak on crime, they say, and Americans will have to fear emboldened criminals on their streets if he’s elected.

Certain violent crimes, such as murders and shootings, are up in major cities since the beginning of the summer. Other cities, meanwhile, have endured months of protests and riots, which have been exacerbated in some areas by the appearance of militant left- and right-wing groups.

Although these trends are not exclusive to cities run by Democratic officials, Republicans argue that progressive lawmakers in cities like Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis and Chicago have been unable or unwilling to stop the violence.

Recent riots in Kenosha appear to have marked a turning point on the issue. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, was criticized by conservatives for his remarks following the shooting of Blake, which they argue aggravated an already tense situation.

In the days that followed, Kenosha descended into chaos, and images of burning buildings and police and protesters battling in the small city were shown on nationwide news channels.

A flag flies over a department of corrections building that was on fire during protests Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (Morry Gash/AP)
A flag over a Department of Corrections building that was on fire during protests on Aug. 24 in Kenosha, Wis. (Morry Gash/AP)

Biden said Trump is to blame for these problems because he seeks to divide Americans and does nothing to unite the country in the wake of violent incidents.

“Fires are burning, and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flames. But we must not burn. We have to build,” Biden said.

Trump is scheduled to go to Kenosha on Tuesday. He is expected to meet with law enforcement officials and tour damage inflicted by rioting during the last week. Evers has asked Trump not to come, saying that it would “hinder our healing.”

Biden’s speech comes after Republicans used their convention last week to tie him to unrest and violence. Trump continued that line of attack on Twitter on Monday morning, ahead of Biden’s speech.

The president claimed that Biden “must always be weak on crime” because he doesn’t want to lose support from progressive voters. Trump also said that if he had not authorized additional National Guard troops for deployment to Kenosha, “there would be no Kenosha right now.”

Evers, however, had already mobilized 500 National Guardsmen from inside Wisconsin, and it’s not clear how many of the 2,000 additional guardsmen from outside the state that were authorized by the Trump administration have actually even arrived in Kenosha.

But Trump’s strategy for reelection seems to be centered now around the proposition that only his brute-force approach to protests is guaranteed to restore order. “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who is best on public safety and law and order,” outgoing Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said last week.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington on August 26, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway at the White House on Wednesday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser pushed back against Trump’s criticism over the weekend that she is “another Democrat who’s not believing in law and order.”

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, was surrounded by protesters after he left the White House on Thursday night, and there were clashes between protesters and police officers on the streets of D.C. on Saturday and Sunday nights.

But Bowser responded directly to Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric. “We are for law and order too,” she said.

“We will not tolerate violence of any kind in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said. But she said that Trump’s tweets about her were “meant to distract from the failures of the last four years.”

Biden sought to undermine Trump’s reelection argument on Monday by saying that Trump is the cause of the disorder and chaos, not the solution.

“Donald Trump failed to protect America, so now he’s trying to scare America,” he said.

Biden talked about what he would do if he were president. “I’d be looking to lower the temperature in this country, not raise it. I’d be looking to unite the nation,” he said.

Biden said he’d bring racial justice activists together with police representatives, and went out of his way to praise law enforcement. “I know most cops are good, decent people. They risk their lives every time they put that shield on and go out the door,” he said.

Biden said he is angered by police brutality and injustice, but saddened by the violence that has occurred, while Trump sees it as a “political lifeline.”

He ended with a line from the Bible. “I believe we’ll be guided by the words of Pope John Paul II, words drawn from the Scriptures: ‘Be not afraid. Be not afraid.’”

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