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Lots of attention has been focused on the contentious moments during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech and the Republican outbursts that interrupted his Tuesday night address.
We want to focus on a quieter, but vitally important, part of the speech.
Biden’s remarks to the parents of Tyre Nichols were the most poignant part of his hour-long address. Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was beaten by police officers in Memphis last month. He died days later.
“There are no words to describe the heartbreak and grief of losing a child,” said Biden, who has known such grief. “But imagine what it’s like to lose a child at the hands of the law. Imagine having to worry whether your son or daughter will come home from walking down the street or playing in the park or just driving their car.”
In the House chamber, which was suddenly silent, Biden spoke of “the talk,” the conversation that parents of children of color have with their children, preparing them to handle an interaction with police. Data show that Black Americans are more likely to be stopped by police and nearly three times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans.
“Imagine having to worry like that every day in America,” he said. “We all want the same thing. Neighborhoods free of violence. Law enforcement who earn the community’s trust. Our children to come home safely. Equal protection under the law; that’s the covenant we have with each other in America.”
Biden also acknowledged the unsustainable strains on law enforcement.
“And we know police officers put their lives on the line every day, and we ask them to do too much,” he said. “To be counselors, social workers, psychologists; responding to drug overdoses, mental health crises, and more. We ask too much of them.”
“I know most cops are good, decent people. They risk their lives every time they put on that shield,” he added. “But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better.”
This isn’t typically what we think of as bipartisanship. But this acknowledgement that we can support first responders — not with hollow words but with more support for their work and better funding for mental health, housing, substance abuse treatment — and expect them to treat all Americans equally offers a path forward on needed police reforms.
Biden is right: We ask police officers to do too much. But it’s not asking too much that unarmed Black men and women make it home safely at the end of the day, without being brutalized by police officers. As Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, told Biden, “Something good will come from this.” To make that happen, lawmakers and the White House must find a way forward with police reform.