In a press conference in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden issued a forceful call yesterday for arrests in the Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake cases.
Taylor was killed nearly six months ago in Louisville, Kentucky when officers forcibly entered her apartment under the guise of looking for drugs or weapons allegedly belonging to her ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover. The problem is that Taylor had not had contact with Glover for well over a month, and when officers barged in unannounced, Taylor’s then boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired his weapon in fear that the ex was breaking in to cause trouble. Taylor, an emergency room tech who dreamed of becoming a registered nurse, was shot multiple times by the officers and died from her injuries.
On August 23rd, Kenosha, Wisconsin Officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake in the back near his vehicle. Blake had been attempting to break up a fight, but when officers arrived on the scene, instead of treating him like a Good Samaritan, they harassed, Tasered, and then shot him seven times in the back–in front of his three young sons; Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump traveled to Kenosha to reinforce his well known unfettered support of law enforcement. Trump simultaneously condemned the small minority of looters interspersed with peaceful protesters, and expressed tacit support for Kyle Ritterhouse, the 17-year-old Illinois juvenile who crossed state lines and killed two white protesters with his AR-15. Trump later stated that he wanted to meet with Jacob Blake’s family, but would not do so if the family’s lawyers, led by Florida based Attorney Ben Crump, were on the line.
The president’s refusal to speak to the Blake family is in stark contrast to his Democratic rival Joe Biden, who along with his running mate Kamala Harris, spoke with them and their lawyers for well over an hour last weekend. Biden, heading to Kenosha later today, recounted that phone call in his Wednesday press conference, where he pushed even further by stating that Offier Rusten Sheskey, depicted below near his bicycle, “needs to be charged.” Biden added, “I’m not going to do anything other than meet with community leaders, as well as business people and other folks in law enforcement, to start to talk about what has to be done. I’m not going to tell Kenosha what to do, but what we’ll do together.”
Biden did not limit his remarks to the Blake case, he further averred that the three officers responsible for killing Breonna Taylor (shown below) should face formal charges as well. As to both cases, Biden concluded by saying unequivocally: “Let’s make sure justice is done.”
The simple fact of the matter is that every single rational Black person that I know has but one goal, which is equal justice under the law. That goal is the underpinning of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, but it has remained elusive for Black people ever since that Amendment was ratified in 1868. Nevertheless, we push on towards that mark and demand that when an officer of the law shoots, beats, or chokes an unarmed American citizen to death, that said officer must face prosecution for his or her criminal acts the same as any private citizen would be charged for shooting, beating, or choking another citizen to death.
Both Biden and Harris have spent the majority of their public careers supporting law enforcement; Biden’s most persistent criticism from the left wing of his own Democratic Party has been that the 1994 Crime Bill that he authored, one that added hundreds of thousands of police officers and monetary support for policing and corrections, was too stringent. The left wing has also persistently attacked Kamala Harris for her record as a tough prosecutor and Attorney General, or “Top Cop,” of California. Further, contrary to false Republican attack ads, Biden has called the “Defund the Police” movement “silly,” and has continuously called for rioters and looters to be prosecuted. So any Republican rhetorical attacks that Biden and Harris are “anti-police” or “soft on rioters” are categorically false.
But what Biden has done is to show that like many Americans, one can support the police–and support the victims of police brutality at the same time. From my perspective, this has never been an “either-or,” “us vs. them” proposition, and such only further strengthens Biden’s arguments that if elected, that he will work not to “defund the police,” but to change the way that police respond when encountering unarmed citizens.
Whether a President Biden would go as far as ending the judicial fiat called “qualified immunity,” a legal postulate that protects murderous or reckless officers in civil lawsuits, remains to be seen. But one could credibly argue that civil rights leaders would have a more willing audience on ending qualified immunity with a President Biden as opposed to President Trump, one who, the George Floyd murder aside, regularly offers presidential level “benefits of the doubt” to murderous officers and domestic terrorists like Kyle Ritterhouse.