BOSTON (CN) — Stoking the passions of voters who have taken to the streets this week to protest police brutality, former Vice President Joe Biden called Tuesday for a massive review, funded by the federal government, of police hiring, training and de-escalation practices.
There are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies and about 800,000 sworn officers in the U.S., and Biden said they would face a national oversight commission within his first 100 days in office if he is elected president.
Laying out his vision in a speech this afternoon at Philadelphia City Hall, Biden called for the federal government to ban police chokeholds, create a model standard on the use of force, and “stop transferring weapons of war to police forces.”
From sound cannons and tracking devices to drones and electric shock handcuffs, military weapons are commonplace for many local police departments, even after the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, led then-President Barack Obama to enact a ban that stopped police from receiving equipment like armored trucks and grenade launchers from the military.
In his speech Tuesday, Biden was careful to criticize looting and vandalism while also being critical of police officers who “escalate tensions or resort to excessive violence.”
“There is no place for violence,” he said. “No place for looting or destroying property or burning churches or destroying businesses, many of them built by people of color who for the first time were beginning to realize their dreams and build wealth for their families.”
This was not enough to stop the Trump camp, however, from tying Biden to the recent violence.
“Joe Biden’s campaign made it clear that they stand with the rioters, the people burning businesses in minority communities and causing mayhem, by donating to post bail for those arrested,” Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson said in a statement. “He has obviously made the crass political calculation that unrest in America is a benefit to his candidacy.”
Biden shot back meanwhile at what he called the “violence that’s being done by the incumbent president to our democracy and to the pursuit of justice.”
The remarks come after the fatal arrest of George Floyd on Memorial Day has sparked days of civil unrest. Footage of the killing shows Floyd, unarmed and in handcuffs, crying out, “I can’t breathe,” as his throat is pinned to the pavement of a street in Minneapolis by a police officer’s knee.
Biden proclaimed Tuesday that he wants to help “communities that have had a knee on their neck for too long.”
“I will be setting forth more of my agenda on economic justice and opportunity in the weeks and months ahead,” he promised, emphasizing that the agenda “begins with health care.”
“It should be a right, not a privilege,” Biden added. “The quickest route to universal coverage in this country is to expand Obamacare.”
Biden also demanded that Congress “rectify racial inequities in the allocation of Covid-19 recovery funds,” and he condemned President Donald Trump for his harsh rhetoric and responses to the demonstrations.
“When peaceful protestors are dispersed … using tear gas and flash grenades in order to stage a photo op at a noble church, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle,” Biden said.
Trump staged the visit to the historic St. John’s Church across from the White House a day earlier, holding up a Bible after authorities had cleared the area of peaceful protesters.
But the Trump campaign’s Pierson responded Tuesday to what she said have been “erroneous” descriptions of the president’s appearance. Pierson denies that protesters were dispersed with tear gas and said the police “were not aware that the president was coming through.”
Speaking in Philadelphia, where police used rubber bullets and tear gas the previous night to disperse protesters blocking an interstate highway, Biden accused Trump of “preening.”
Obama’s former second-in-command said Trump is using the protests “as an opportunity to sow chaos and throw up a smokescreen to distract us from … very real and legitimate grievances.”
“Donald Trump has turned our country into a battlefield riven by old resentments and fresh fears,” he said. “When he tweeted the words, ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ those weren’t the words of a president. They were the words of a racist Miami police chief from the 1960s.”
Biden also referenced losing his eldest son Beau to cancer five years ago, noting that he can empathize with the senseless death roiling minority communities.
“I know what it means to have a black hole of grief sucking at your chest,” he said. “My losses are not the same as the losses felt by so many, but I know what it is to feel like you cannot go on.”