WASHINGTON • Mr Joe Biden is working to show he is an ally of black voters in their fight against police brutality, yet the Democratic presidential nominee is willing to go only so far.
In the wake of Mr George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody, Mr Biden has taken a tough stance against police misconduct, urging additional training for law enforcement and an end to chokeholds. Yet his calls for change stop short of the policies the protesters say they want to see.
He has held off on agreeing with demands to “defund the police”, making it clear instead that he wants community policing and body cameras. He has yet to talk to protest leaders. And he has not followed other prominent Democrats in joining marchers on the streets.
With his stance towards police misconduct, Mr Biden is trying to show his support for protesters while preserving his appeal with a more moderate base that sees tougher laws and new training – not funding cuts – as the way to overhaul policing.
It resembles the line he has threaded with progressive activists who saw him refuse to support policies like “Medicare for All” or the “Green New Deal”, but instead take a few steps in their direction.
Mr Biden must encourage younger black voters to turn out in higher numbers in November than they did in 2016, when Mrs Hillary Clinton’s failure to engage them contributed to her narrow loss, while not losing older black voters or white voters who could make a difference in key battleground states.
He is approaching the moment by offering an empathetic ear and a stark contrast with United States President Donald Trump, who threatened to order a military response to the protests.
The former US vice-president started with his own campaign team. An all-staff meeting after Mr Floyd’s death lasted two hours, more than twice longer than what was expected, as people spoke about their experiences with the police and about race more broadly.
Mr Biden also took pains to keep a low profile on Monday when he went to Houston to meet Mr Floyd’s family. His campaign was careful to contrast that with Mr Trump’s widely criticised pose in front of St John’s Episcopal Church near the White House last week.
Though he remains overwhelmingly popular with African-American voters – especially compared with Mr Trump, who won only 6 per cent of the black vote in 2016 – black activists are warning Mr Biden that he still has work to do.
“I don’t think this is an issue where you can make the fraternal order of the police and black people happy at the same time and I think black people are going to be watching him,” said Mr Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the Working Families Party, which espouses a progressive agenda.
Mr Mitchell added: “Mr Biden can’t rest on Mr Donald Trump’s inability to lead in this moment that is uniquely requiring leadership.”
“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” Mr Biden told CBS on Monday. “I support conditioning federal aid to police, based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honourableness. And, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community.”