The Biden-Harris White House took no days off from pitching police reform legislation, even as a murdered police officer lay in honor at the U.S. Capitol.
Tuesday, April 13, called for a balancing act from President Joe Biden: On Monday afternoon, the president made his first public comment on Daunte Wright’s fatal police encounter in Minnesota. The next morning, Biden delivered remarks at the Capitol in honor of U.S. Capitol Police Officer William Evans, who was killed by a Nation of Islam follower. He then held a meeting at the White House with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, discussing Wright’s death again.
Ideally, for a U.S. president to perform those various roles in a 24-hour-period should not attract attention at all. But Tuesday’s events juxtaposed conflicting messages and realities for the Biden-Harris White House, which highlights matters of racial equity, bias, or discrimination in some, but not all, instances of violence.
The White House noted race when the victims of violence were Asian-American and the gunman was white, but did not when the victims were white and the gunman was a Nation of Islam follower. In fact, after the murder of all white people in Boulder, Colorado, Biden only mentioned the race of the victims in the other shooting, a week prior.
On Tuesday, pitches for initiatives like the George Floyd Act were not put on hold out of respect for the funeral of a murdered police officer, nor were injunctions against racial discrimination.
Although the driver of the car that killed Officer Evans was a black Nation of Islam follower, the president’s remarks in honor of Evans were free of any allusion to race, bias against police officers, or terrorism—referring only to “the attack,” which killed one officer and injured another.
Biden spoke in generalizations about the qualities of people he knew who were like Evans. “I didn’t know Billy, but I knew Billy,” the president said. “I grew up with Billys in Claymont and Scranton, Pennsylvania. Billy was always the kid that you know if you got in a fight and you’re outnumbered three to one, he’d still jump in, knowing you’d both get beaten… He was the one who, just like the folks I grew up with, wasn’t capable of saying no when you needed him.” He then shared personal stories about hearing about the death of his own family members and exercises that helped cope with the grief.
With members of the Congressional Black Caucus that afternoon, Biden referred to “that God-awful shooting resulting in [Wright’s] death.” One member of Congress, Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, emerged after the meeting to say that “We are standing here on the grounds of the White House because of them and for them,” referring to those affected by police shootings. “We feel their pain because many of us have witnessed the same thing, the same discrimination, we know there is systemic racism, we know that we need to do better with enforcing police reform, gun reform, we’re asking them to stand with us as we stand with them.”
Press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about an anti-law enforcement tweet posted by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, which read, “It wasn’t an accident. Policing in our country is inherently & intentionally racist. Daunte Wright was met with aggression & violence. I am done with those who condone government funded murder. No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed.”
“What I can state from here is that that’s not the President’s view. The President’s view is that there are necessary, outdated reforms that should be put in place; that there is accountability that needs to happen; that the loss of life is far too high; that these families are suffering around the country; and that the Black community is exhausted from the ongoing threats they feel. But he also believes that there is a forum for putting in place legislation, the George Floyd Act, that can help put many of these necessary reforms in place, and that part of what needs to happen is rebuilding trust in communities in order to get to a better place.”
For the Biden-Harris White House, Daunte Wright’s life had political value as part of a narrative that Officer Billy Evans’ death doesn’t fit into. It showed.