Biden Says U.S. Has Opportunity for ‘Change’ in Race Disparities

President Joe Biden said the racial strife that’s gripped the U.S. since George Floyd’s death is an opportunity to make significant strides toward addressing inequity, likening the era to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“We have a chance now, a chance now, to make significant change in racial disparities,” Biden said at a CNN town hall event in Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

After winning election in part on the strength of the Black vote, Biden has promised to devote his presidency to addressing deep-seated U.S. racial disparities. He’s sought to place racial equity at the center of broader issues, including his effort to curb the coronavirus pandemic, and during the town hall on Tuesday he spoke at length about policing and race relations.

“There’s so many things that are built in, institutionally, that disadvantage African Americans and Latinos,” Biden said, citing higher rates paid for home and car insurance in Black neighborhoods as an example.

Last year’s presidential campaign took place during America’s worst period of racial unrest since the 1960’s, after unarmed Black men and women were killed by police, including Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

Biden said that the person who filmed Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer “awakened the whole world” and that Floyd’s daughter had told him that “my daddy’s changed the world.”

The brutality inspired a popular demand among protesters, “defund the police,” but Biden told a Black man identified as a Donald Trump voter at the CNN town hall that he didn’t agree with that solution.

“We have to put more money into police work. So we have legitimate community policing and we’re in a situation where we change the legislation,” Biden said.

But he added that police recruits should face more rigorous background evaluations, similar to those in the U.S. intelligence community. Several off-duty police officers have been charged with taking part in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6

“There has to be much more serious, how can I say it, much more serious determination as to what the background and the attitudes of the recruit is, what their views are,” Biden said. “There should be much more psychological testing like you would if you go into the intelligence community. There is inherent prejudice built into the system as well.”

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He also said that public defenders should be paid as much as prosecutors, and that prison systems should be required to better rehabilitate inmates so they’re prepared for vocational work.

Rapidly changing American attitudes toward race are visible in popular culture, he said -- cautioning that he was about “to say something that’s going to get me in trouble.”

“Think about it -- if you want to know where the American public is, look at the money being spent on advertising,” he said. “Did you ever, five years ago, think every second or third ad out of five or six you turn on would be biracial couples?”

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