Joe Biden’s response to another police killing is predictably disappointing

Joe Biden speaking at a campaign event in August. (Photo via Flickr)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

As Joe Biden and his wife exited the Carvel State Office Building after casting their ballots, a reporter asked the former vice president a straightforward question: “What do you say to Philadelphia residents that are outraged by yet another unarmed Black man being shot by police?” 

Biden responded quickly, stating, “What I say is that there is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence, none whatsoever. I think to be able to protest is totally legitimate, totally reasonable, but I think that the looting … as the victim’s father said … ‘You’re not helping, you’re hurting.’” 

He alluded to a future commission he planned to set up that would “determine how we deal with these changes,” and doubled down in saying there was no excuse for looting. In a joint written statement from their campaign, Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris noted that “Walter Wallace’s life, like too many others, was a Black life that mattered,” only to immediately follow up saying, “No amount of anger at the very real injustices in our society excuses violence … looting is not a protest, it is a crime … We are strong enough to both meet the challenges of real police reform, including implementing a national use of force standard, and to maintain peace and security in our communities.”

Both responses were predictably insufficient. It’s disappointing that the Biden camp had the time to write a statement out and still made sure to avoid saying the Philadelphia police were the ones who killed Walter Wallace Jr. There was more space in the statement devoted to delegitimizing and reprimanding protesters than actually holding the Philadelphia Police Department accountable. 

Biden’s verbal statement is even less inspiring. He was asked outright to send a message to the people of Philadelphia, who had just watched the killing of one of their own in broad daylight. Instead of noting that Wallace had a bipolar disorder, that the family had requested an ambulance instead of police or that his mother made officers aware of his mental state while begging them not to shoot her son, Biden condemned the response to an act of injustice more forcefully than the actual injustice.

I view riots and looting as entirely legitimate responses to a system that prioritizes property, goods and services over human life. If Biden is so concerned with stopping these “crimes,” he should direct his criticism toward the PPD and the officers who shot Wallace.  

Unfortunately, even that is wishful thinking. Biden’s current criminal justice reform policies include a $20 billion grant that encourages states to address crime through prevention as well as the implementation of Rep. Bobby Scott’s SAFE Justice Act, but there’s no direct response to ongoing police violence against Black Americans. Biden has noted often that he is against defunding the police and will instead invest $300 million in community policing efforts. 

He has made a stubborn commitment to centrism a recurring theme. Instead of supporting the progressive environmental policies of the Green New Deal, he has established himself as a pro-fracking candidate, and he has made it clear that policies such as Medicare for All and marijuana legalization are highly unlikely to happen under his presidency. By refusing to even name Walter Wallace Jr.’s killers, Biden is preparing for more of the same as president.       

Malcolm Ferguson is a senior English and government and politics major. He can be reached at mferguso@terpmail.umd.edu.

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