“The original sin of this country still stains our nation today, and sometimes, we manage to overlook it. We just push forward with a thousand other tasks in our daily life. But it’s always there.”
Former vice president Joe Biden on Friday issued a stark call for all Americans to grapple with the nation’s “original sin” of racism and to address the uncomfortable truths that have so often gone unspoken.
Biden’s call for Americans to step up came as part of a nearly six-minute video posted online, in which he issued a response to the nationwide protests that have followed the police killing of 46-year-old Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd on Monday.
“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 said of Floyd’s death. “It’s time for us to take a hard look at the uncomfortable truths. It’s time for us to face that deep open wound we have in this nation. We need justice for George Floyd.”
Biden’s speech came after three days of unrest and protests following Floyd’s death on Monday evening, when a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck and pinned him to the ground, suffocating him to death. In a video, Floyd can be seen asking for mercy, repeatedly uttering “I can’t breathe.”
The four officers involved in Floyd’s killing were quickly fired and Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday afternoon, but as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president said, the driving force behind this week’s protests go far beyond Floyd’s death.
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Biden tied Floyd’s death to the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot to death by three white men in Southern Georgia while on a run, and Breonna Taylor, a Louisville EMT who was killed by police in her own home. He also drew a line from those recent killings to America’s original sin of slavery and ensuing centuries of systemic racism.
“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,” Biden said. “The original sin of this country still stains our nation today, and sometimes, we manage to overlook it. We just push forward with a thousand other tasks in our daily life. But it’s always there. 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. None of us can any longer hear the words ‘I can’t breathe’ and do nothing.”
In his plea for the rest of the nation to step up and help combat racism, Biden asked Americans to put themselves in the shoes of Black Americans and try to imagine the anxiety and trauma they experience every day in the United States
“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, just so they could make it home,” Biden said. “Imagine having 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.”
Biden said that the week’s events highlighted that racism was a national crisis that required real leadership to help make the “promise of this nation real for all people.”
“We need real leadership right now—leadership that will bring everyone to the table so we can take measures to root out systemic racism,” Biden said.
Biden’s response came as a stark contrast to President Trump’s, who on Thursday night called the protestors “THUGS” and threatened them with violence. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump said in a tweet.
Biden, meanwhile, addressed the need for police reform that “holds bad cops accountable” and “repairs relationships between law enforcement and the community they’re sworn to protect.” He also called on those who sit in positions of influence to do something about abuses of power.
This, Biden said, was critical, because Black Americans cannot suffer through this racism and violence alone, and deserve support and help from their white peers, if the U.S. is to fulfill its promises of freedom and equality for all.
“The pain is too immense for one community to bear alone. I believe it is the duty of every American to grapple with it, and to grapple with it now. With our complacency, our silence, we are complicit in perpetuating these cycles of violence,” Biden said. “Nothing about this will be easy or comfortable, but if we simply allow this wound to scab over once more, without treating the underlying injury, we’ll never truly heal. The very soul of America is at stake.”