Joe Biden: To end systemic racism, no one can stay silent. No one can ignore injustice

Joe Biden
Thousands of protesters gather outside Los Angeles City Hall to demand justice for George Floyd.  (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In every corner of this country this weekend, George Floyd’s words, which were the words of Eric Garner before him, are echoing from millions of voices in our streets and in our hearts.

“I can’t breathe.”

And, Friday should have been Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday — a day she didn't live to see.

They are among the latest additions to an endless list of lives stolen and potential wiped out unnecessarily.

On Friday, in discussing a jobs report that made clear some 20 million Americans remain unemployed, Donald Trump said he hoped that George Floyd was “looking down and seeing this is a great day for our country.”

He invoked the name of a man brutally killed in an act of needless violence and a larger tide of injustice that has metastasized on this president’s watch to celebrate a jobs report that included an unemployment rate of 35% among black youth.

Systemic racism affects every aspect of our society. COVID-19 is ravaging our country, with almost 110,000 people now dead, but it is killing black people at almost 2.5 times the rate as white people.

These are more than just numbers — they are lives. They represent families worried about losing their homes and feeding their children. And, they are a wake-up call to all of us.

The truth of our nation is that too often, the color of your skin alone can endanger your life and, for far too long, systemic racism has oppressed communities of color in the United States.

Black and brown communities must no longer be the only ones to bear the weight of pushing for change. No one can stay silent. No one can ignore injustice.

It’s long past time for our nation to deal with systemic racism, including its contributions to growing economic inequality. We must seize this moment of opportunity to address all the issues that have denied the promise of this nation to so many for so long. Let’s use this moment of urgency to finally find the path forward.

History teaches us that our darkest moments have produced some of our greatest progress. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments followed the Civil War. The greatest economy in the history of the world grew out of the Great Depression. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 came in the tracks of Bull Connor’s vicious attack dogs unleashed on those pushing for change. Let us make this, too, a moment of action to deliver long-overdue, concrete policies to reverse systemic racism, and to propel us across this turbulent threshold into an era of true equality and opportunity.

If elected, I am committed to establishing a national police oversight commission within 100 days of taking office. We need to implement real community policing and ensure that every police department in the country undertakes a comprehensive review of their hiring, their training, and their de-escalation practices, with the federal government providing the tools and resources needed to implement reforms. But, we cannot wait for new leadership to make reforms. Congress should take action immediately to outlaw chokeholds, stop the transfer of weapons of war to local police forces, improve oversight and accountability, and create a model use-of-force standard.

Most police officers meet the highest standards of their profession, which is all the more reason that bad cops should be dealt with severely and swiftly. This week we saw all four officers involved in Floyd’s death charged with crimes. That was an important step toward ending the culture and policies that protect bad cops and keep them from being held accountable for their actions and for failing to intervene when they witness an abuse of power by a fellow officer.

Today, the pain is so raw it can be hard to keep faith that justice is at hand or that we will ever achieve the more perfect union we all want. But ours is a union worth fighting for, and we are all called to the cause. We must become a nation where all men and women are not only created equal, but treated equally. We need to become the nation defined — in Dr. King’s words — not only by the absence of tension, but by the presence of justice.

American history isn’t a fairy tale with a guaranteed happy ending. The battle for the soul of this nation has been a constant push-and-pull for more than 240 years. But, we cannot make progress without leadership in the Oval Office. Donald Trump has turned our country into a battlefield. He thinks division helps him, and his narcissism has become more important than the well-being of the nation he leads.

No president gets everything right. But the country needs a leader who doesn’t traffic in fear and division, a leader who, rather than fanning the flames of hate, will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country. The presidency is about the American people.

I truly believe that we can overcome. And that when we stand together, finally, as one America, will we rise stronger than before.

Joe Biden served as vice president under Barack Obama and is a current candidate for president.