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George Floyd’s death ‘no time for incendiary tweets,’ Biden says of Trump

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Friday accused President Donald Trump of sending “incendiary tweets” about the protests over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis this week, saying the rhetoric inflamed tensions and fit into a broader pattern of Trump stoking racism.

Biden suggested the nationwide protests surrounding Floyd’s death after being restrained by police  were “heated” up by Trump tweeting that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”– language that echoes that of a 1960s Miami police chief whose words have been cited in justifying deadly force against protesters. 

“I think it matters what presidents say and how they say it,” Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in an interview with the PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff.

“This president has stoked racism from the time he made a moral equivalence,” between the  “good people on both sides” of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Biden added.

After Floyd, a black man, was arrested Monday, a white police officer pinned him to the ground and knelt on his neck for over eight minutes. 

The incident was filmed by bystanders who can be heard on video asking the officer, Derek Chauvin, to stop as Floyd says several times, “I can’t breathe.”

Floyd died in police custody that day. Chauvin was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Floyd’s family asked authorities to revise the charges to hold accountable the three other officers involved in the incident.

READ MORE: What we know about George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody

In the interview, Biden called the killing “so vivid, so crass, so cruel,” and expressed his hope that  “it awakens a sense of outrage on the part of American people.”

Floyd’s death has sparked protests in several cities around the country in addition to Minneapolis, where the National Guard was called in by the Minnesota governor to restore order after the protests turned violent on Wednesday.

Trump has defended his response to the unrest, and called on the Department of Justice to investigate Floyd’s death.

When asked what he would have done differently as president, Biden said he would have “spoken to it immediately.”

“We’ve got to make it clear that you’re going to get to the bottom of this, that justice will be done,” he added. 


Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The images we have seen this week of unrest in cities like Minneapolis resemble demonstrations that took place during the Obama administration, when protesters took to the streets demanding law enforcement officers face justice for their treatment of black Americans.

    Joe Biden served as Barack Obama's vice president. He's currently the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

    And he joins us now from his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

    Vice President Biden, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now that this police officer has been arrested — thank you.

    He's been arrested. He's been charged with murder, third-degree murder, and with manslaughter. What happens now?

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    Well, what happens now is, we find out what happens to the other police officers and whether or not the Justice Department decides to do a civil rights investigation as well.

    And — but what happens is, we have to — I think, Judy, this is one of those moments — at least I hope it is — that is so vivid, so crass, so cruel, that so many people have seen, that it awakens them in a way to say, you know, enough is enough.

    Our children saw this. Think of the millions of children who are sitting by the television watching that cop smash the head of the — of George against the curb and hold his knee there for nine minutes.

    So, I hope it awakens a sense of outrage on the part of the American people to hold police departments and all others accountable for their behaviors.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And yet, as we know, Vice President Biden, these incidents are not new.

    During the time you were in office, President Obama was in office, we saw Trayvon Martin, we saw a number of incidents with black men in an encounter with police or with others.

    And I think Americans come away saying, we thought things were going to change. President Obama certainly spoke often and with passion, as you did. But here we are. It's 2020. It's still happening.

    What are people to believe now?

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    Well, things still — terrible things still happen, but the frequency with which they happen and an entire generation that's coming along, the young millennials, all the way down through Generation Z, they're the least prejudiced, the least judgmental, the people who are most open to change.

    And I just think that what's happened is that, coupled with the pandemic, and watching how the institutional impediments that exist, both in racism and the way in which we deal with health care and a whole range of thing, I think the American public is ready for us to do more.

    I think you're going to see a lot more pressure on police departments in terms of training. I think you're going to see many more people held accountable. Look how rapidly the police department acted here, and the chief and the mayor, in firing all three of them, and now a murder charge being brought.

    So I think that there is — we have to change. And it's going to take time, and it's going to — but we have got to — you have to have a president, like Barack was, who speaks out about it. You have got to be able to talk about it.

    And if I'm elected president, this is going to be something that I'm not going to pretend is not happening. I think it matters what presidents say, and how they say it, and what they do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, with all due respect, again, Vice President Biden, you had words similar to what you're saying today then. Certainly, President Obama did.

    What is going to be different? And is speaking — I want to ask you, is speaking out enough? What actions? There's been retraining in police departments…

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    But they…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … but, still, we see incidents like the one this week.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    They have to just keep on it. We have to just keep going back at it. Look at the training programs, make them stronger, move on them.

    Look, I remember — it's a little bit like, you know, when I was a kid, I came back from law school, and my city had been burned down, 20 percent of it burned to the ground, occupied by the National Guard, and told that we were never going to be able to get any better, things were just never going to change.

    Well, they changed considerably. The city, African-Americans and all others are integrated together now, not totally, but there's a totally different circumstance than it was.

    So, things have gotten, on a macro sense, better. But you still — if you're a black man or a black woman or a child, you're still going to walk — worry when you walk out of the house whether or not you're going to be the victim of what George was, you know, that — because you're black. It's still a grave concern.

    But the idea it's not any better, I think it — look, the other thing is — and I will just be very blunt with you — I think this president has stoked racism, from the time he made a moral equivalence between those folks coming out of the fields in Charlottesville carrying torches, and their veins bulging, and carrying Nazi flags, and accompanied by white supremacists.

    And a woman — a young girl gets killed, and he gets asked about it, he says, they're a moral equivalence, there are good people on both sides.

    It matters what presidents say.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, finally, we see President Obama — I'm sorry — President Trump last night speaking about looting leads to shooting.

    Today, the White House is saying he didn't mean — he wasn't trying to threaten violence.

    What could you have done in the last day or so as president to prevent the kind of frustration and anger that's spilled over in cities across the country?

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    I'm not sure I could prevent it, but I would not have heated it up.

    He didn't say — he said, they begin to loot, we shoot. That's what he said, OK? And that's not a phrase that any president I would — that I'm — that I think would make sense for a president to make, number one.

    Number two, I would have been on the air. I'm not saying it would have stopped it, but what I am saying is, I would have spoken to it immediately, immediately. I did speak to it. I'm not president, but I did speak to it.

    We have got to make people — make it clear that you're going to get to the bottom of this, that justice will be done, we're going follow this through the end, that the Civil Rights department, and the Justice Department, are going to intervene and determine what — what action can and should be taken, if it's not taken by the state.

    And, look, the difference between this and what happened in Missouri when we were there is, the police chief immediately and the mayor immediately fired the three police officers, then brought charges.

    So, you know, bad things are going to happen. And it's really frightening.

    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. And we need leadership to bring everyone to the table, so we can root out these systematic racist activities that go on.

    And I'm not saying we — I guarantee you get it done, but you have to speak to it. You have to constantly be on it. You can't let up on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Vice President Joe Biden, we thank you very much.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    Thank you, Judy.

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