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Biden Condemns Police Murder of Tyre Nichols as Congressional Push for Police Reform Remains Stalled

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President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union address Tuesday, his first before a divided Congress where Republicans now hold a slim majority in the House of Representatives. Biden, who is widely believed to be gearing up for reelection in 2024, repeatedly asked lawmakers to work with him to “finish the job.” Biden spoke exactly a month after the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, honoring his parents, who were in attendance, and demanding more police accountability. Color of Change president Rashad Robinson says it was an emotional moment worth recognizing, “but we have to go the extra mile at helping the public understand why change hasn’t happened, who is standing in the way of change.” He says Republicans, backed by big-money donors, have effectively foreclosed the chance of meaningful legislation on policing for the next two years.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union Tuesday night before a divided Congress. Biden touted his infrastructure legislation, backed an assault weapons ban, the codification of abortion rights and taxing the ultra-rich and corporations. Republicans repeatedly heckled Biden. At one point, Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene shouted “Liar!” as Biden criticized proposals by some Republicans to cut Social Security and Medicare.

We spend the hour airing excerpts and getting response. We begin with President Biden’s comments about the police killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. Biden spoke exactly a month after Nichols was brutally beaten by officers January 7th. He died three days later in the hospital. Five of the officers have been fired and charged with murder. On Tuesday night, Tyre Nichols’ parents sat with first lady Dr. Jill Biden in the House gallery during the State of the Union. This is President Biden.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Public safety depends on public trust, as all of us know. But too often that trust is violated.

Joining us tonight are the parents of Tyre Nichols — welcome — who had to bury Tyre last week. As many of you personally know, there’s no words to describe the heartache or grief of losing a child. But imagine — imagine if you lost that child at the hands of the law. Imagine having to worry whether your son or daughter came home from walking down the street or playing in the park or just driving a car.

Most of us in here have never had to have the talk, the talk that Brown and Black parents have had to have with their children. Beau, Hunter, Ashley, my children, I never had to have the talk with them. I never had to tell them, “If a police officer pulls you over, turn your interior lights on right away. Don’t reach for your license. Keep your hands on the steering wheel.” Imagine having to worry like that every single time your kid got in a car.

Here’s what Tyre’s mother shared with me when I spoke to her, when I asked her how she finds the courage to carry on and speak out. With the faith of God, she said her son was, quote, “a beautiful soul, and something good will come of this.” …

I know most cops and their families are good, decent, honorable people, the vast majority. They risk — and they risk their lives every time they put that shield on.

But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better, give law enforcement the real training they need, hold them to higher standards, help them to succeed in keeping us safe. We also need more first responders and professionals to address the growing mental health, substance abuse challenges; more resources to reduce violent crime and gun crime; more community intervention programs; more investments in housing, education and job training. All this can help prevent violence in the first place. And when police officers or police departments violate the public’s trust, they must be held accountable.

With the support — with the support of the families of victims, civil rights groups and law enforcement, I signed an executive order for all federal officers, banning chokeholds, restricting no-knock warrants, and other key elements of the George Floyd Act. Let’s commit ourselves to make the words of Tyre’s mom true: Something good must come from this. Something good.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President by delivering his State of the Union Tuesday night. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats wore pins with the date 1870 on them. That was the year a Black man named Henry Truman was shot dead by a white Philadelphia police officer, the first known instance of a police officer killing a free Black person in the United States.

We’re joined now in Washington, D.C., by our first guest, Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change. Your response to the State of the Union? And particularly focus on this issue. Interestingly, President Biden did not refer to the George Floyd police reform bill, which many are talking about, including its sponsors, like Senator Cory Booker. It seems that it’s taken off the table at this point.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Well, I think that that’s really important, Amy, because the reason why he didn’t talk about the George Floyd Policing Act is because, while there was a room full of Republicans that actually stood up for Tyre Nichols’ family, they are unwilling to actually do anything structural to hold police accountable. And the Republican representatives don’t sit alone, right? They are supported by a whole network of enablers, corporations who seem outraged when these police killings happen, yet continue to support not just these representatives, but support police foundations that are sort of right now in the process of building sites like “Cop City” in Atlanta, which will displace, you know, tons of Black folks in that community while also creating another sort of home for sort of training, and unaccountable training and violent training, of police officers.

So I think it was incredibly important that the president sort of spoke to the emotional sort of situation we are in, but we have to go the extra mile of helping the public understand why change hasn’t happened, who is standing in the way of change, because we constantly lose at the backrooms — in the backrooms, because we don’t have the right people lined up at the front door, not just the front door of Congress but the front door of all the people that enable Congress to be stagnant, to gaslight us and to prevent the sort of opportunities for real structural reform and accountability, because at the end of the day, executive orders are important, but they are so limited. They don’t impact what actually happens in local communities, and they don’t have the level of a power that legislation will have.

I also think it was really important that he talked about a vision for public safety, which really sort of in many ways connected and aligned with something that Color of Change has put out, which is on our website, our vision for public safety, which we have worked on with Vera Institute and Brookings and others, which really does talk about: What do we do outside of policing? How do we invest in communities to not just hold police accountable, but to unlock the full potential of communities? And that does include the type of investments in mental health, in education and violence prevention — all of the things that actually make communities safe and will actually lift us up.

So, I think we have to continue to sort of recognize that over the next two years we’re not going to get the type of policing reform we need at the federal level, but we have to begin telling a powerful story about why and who is holding us back, and focusing our energy strategically at those forces.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, of course, what’s being said now is because it’s a divided House and Senate, but the last two years were both run by — run by Democrats. But I want to go back to President Biden speaking last night.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There’s one reason why we’ve been able to do all of these things: our democracy itself. It’s the most fundamental thing of all. With democracy, everything is possible. Without it, nothing is.

For the last few years, our democracy has been threatened and attacked, put at risk, put to the test in this very room on January the 6th. And then, just a few months ago, an unhinged “big lie” assailant unleashed a political violence at the home of the then-speaker of the House of Representatives, using the very same language the insurrectionists used as they stalked these halls and chanted on January 6th.

Here tonight in this chamber is the man who bears the scars of that brutal attack but is as tough and as strong and as resilient as they get: my friend, Paul Pelosi. Paul, stand up.

But such a heinous act should have never happened. We must all speak out. There’s no place for political violence in America. We have to protect the right to vote, not suppress that fundamental right; honor the results of our elections, not subvert the will of the people. We have to uphold the rule of the law and restore trust in our institutions of democracy. And we must give hate and extremism in any form no safe harbor.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s President Biden referring to extremism and the man who attacked Paul Pelosi, the former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband. Rashad Robinson, we’re speaking — just before this week, Jim Jordan, who’s now head of the House Judiciary Committee, is going to have a hearing that’s called the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, which is really going after agencies that are going after what is being called the greatest threat inside the United States to national security, and that is right-wing domestic extremism. Can you talk about this?

RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah. And, you know, this is a result of all the ways in which social media platforms have been able to amplify, profit off of, encourage and sort of, in so many ways, create a whole business model around inciting these type of ideas and, as a result, mobilizing factions of our society around lies. And so, yes, we must stomp out hate. Yes, we must deal with violence. But how do we do it? And we actually have to hold Big Tech accountable. It was good to hear President Biden talk about Big Tech accountability, because I think that that’s incredibly important.

I think where we actually need to sort get our hands around the problem is: What are the set of legislations that actually need to be passed? And how do we combat sort of all the ways in which the big platforms are standing in the way of that? Jim Jordan wouldn’t be able to sort of have the entrée and visibility and engagement around what he’s doing if he wasn’t supported by a whole ecosystem of platforms, which are incentivized to amplify these lies, to encourage these lies, to radicalize people around this information, which leads people to take all sorts of actions, that we have saw on January 6, that we saw with Paul Pelosi, that we see sort of in communities — we saw in Buffalo, we saw in Texas — we’ve seen time and time again. And so, until we actually deal with these self-regulated platforms, which are essentially unregulated platforms, we will continue to be here. Our cars are not safe because of the benevolence of the car industry. Federal government has to put in some accountability.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to President Biden talking about Big Tech.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We must finally hold social media companies accountable for experimenting they’re doing, running on children for profit. And it’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on our kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data the companies collect on all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashad Robinson, you’ve been dealing with these tech companies for a long time now.

RASHAD ROBINSON: The problem that we’re facing with how the platforms attack, engage, focus on our young people is a — you know, is an incredibly important issue to focus on, but it’s just one piece of the larger problem and one piece of the sort of outsize power. And we have to make sure that when we deal with the sort of legislation and policy that will hopefully raise the floor on what’s acceptable from these platforms, we will sort of not just focus on young people, but we will focus on sort of all of the ways in which communities have been targeted, attacked and exploited by these platforms.

You know, when we’ve gone toe to toe with these platforms, what we’ve, time and time again, learned is that even when they sort of commit to changes, they end up not being incentivized five, six months later, because there are no rules and there are no regulations, so that growth and profit will always outweigh safety, integrity and security. And so, we’ve released something called “The Black Tech Agenda,” which is a six-part platform that sort of outlines a whole set of policies that specifically deal with all the ways in which these platforms target and attack people that have always been targeted and attacked. Dealing with the information environ, dealing with sort of the abuse of Big Tech is not a hard thing, if we actually focus on the communities that have been traditionally targeted and attacked. If we focus on those folks that have been targeted and attacked, and build the policies and issue areas that will help them, we will sort of raise the floor for everyone in the process.

And that is why racial justice is going to be so incredibly important, because, once again, we are facing outsize forces on the other side, and we are facing monied forces on the other side. And Congress will continue to remain stagnant and do nothing, unless they are forced to do it and unless they feel like there’s consequences and that there are rewards. And so, I think it was important that the president continues to talk about it. He has put more people in positions of power inside of his administration that care about this, some of the smartest and best people. He should be commended for that. And now we have to actually do the work to get legislation across the line while we are in this moment, because we are running out of time.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashad Robinson, I want to thank you very much for being with us, president of the Color of Change act. And I just want to be clear, on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, while President Biden did refer to it, he just referred to it in terms of executive orders that he had put forward that took elements of it.

When we come back, we’ll continue our roundtable discussion with the economist Dean Baker; former Bernie Sanders adviser, Ukrainian American Matt Duss; and newly elected Democratic Congressmember Delia Ramirez, who gave the Working Families Party’s response to the State of the Union. Stay with us. Back in 30 seconds.

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