Biden talks police reform with big-city mayors as unrest continues

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden bows his head in prayer as he visits Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., Monday, June 1, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP photo via Courthouse News)

(CN) — Vying for the Oval Office in November, former Vice President Joe Biden held a virtual roundtable with big-city mayors Monday to discuss the protests roiling America and how the federal government can assist local decision-makers to bounce back from the twin difficulties presented by violence in the streets and the economic ravages of the pandemic.

“We need this anger to compel us to move forward,” Biden said at the outset before proceeding to solicit information from the mayors about the state of their respective cities and what they need going forward.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Melvin Carter, mayor of St. Paul, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti all participated in the roundtable and spoke about the need for police reform while making the case that more financial help is required from the federal government for cities to meet their service responsibilities.

“We see a lot of pent-up pain of the pandemic, but also, more importantly, the repressed rage of racism in this country,” Garcetti said. He also lashed out at President Donald Trump and said part of the problem is “a lack of national leadership.”

Each mayor talked about how their cities are dealing with community policing, establishing greater trust between their citizens and the police and allowing for peaceful protest while condemning the violence, looting and destruction that has materialized in some cities.

“Our city is hurting and America is hurting,” said Bottoms, who has received national attention for her response to the protests in Atlanta. “People are being heard and my hope is that their voices and their outcry does not get lost in the destruction.”

Bottoms has been identified by some pundits as a viable pick for Biden’s running mate. The former vice president singled her out for her performance in the last few days.

“You’ve been incredible,” Biden said. “Your passion, composure and balance have all been incredible.”

While Biden is still relegated to disseminating his message mostly via virtual platforms, he has gotten out in the community more, meeting with community members at a traditionally black church on Monday morning. He shared a photograph taking a knee in front of a black man and his child on Sunday and has been careful to show solidarity with protesters expressing anger over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer while condemning looting and other forms of violence.

Biden has attempted to contrast his response to that of Trump, which has characteristically lacked any attempt to temper the tensions cleaving the country but has instead sought to stoke division — at one point tweeting that looters should be shot.

“This has been a bad couple of months, with 100,000 people dead from the Covid crisis on top of what is happening now because of the death of George Floyd,” Biden said.

Biden touted the Obama administration’s approach to the scourge of police violence, saying the Department of Justice consent decrees are a valuable tool that has been abandoned by the current administration.

Garcetti agreed.

“Our city went through a painful consent decree, but it made us a lot better,” he said. “We were able to enact the necessary reforms.”

The mayors all told Biden that the most important thing they want from the federal government in the short term is financial help to make up yawning deficits that are a result of the economic damage of the coronavirus.

“We’ve had a number of our businesses destroyed in the last week,” said Carter, mayor of St. Paul. “We need help and we need it right away.”

Biden said if he were president, he would marshal federal resources to help local jurisdictions in this time of financial crisis. He also promised to investigate whether the federal stimulus dollars are going to businesses inappropriately connected to the Trump administration.

“If I end up getting the job I am running for, I will appoint an inspector general to go back over every single dollar to see where it went and to hold people accountable,” Biden said.