Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Monday blamed President Trump for escalating violence at protests in cities across the country, while condemning the destructive elements of the racial justice demonstrations that he said are counterproductive to the cause.
Speaking at a steel mill in Pittsburgh, Biden placed the blame for the civil unrest in the country squarely on Trump, saying the president has inflamed tensions since the police killing of George Floyd in May.
“This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country,” Biden said. “He can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it.”
The former vice president, under pressure from Trump and Democrats to address the destructive elements of the protests against racial injustice that have left portions of some cities in ruin, forcefully condemned rioting and looting and pressed for calm.
“I want to be very clear about all of this – rioting is not protesting,” Biden said. “Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted. Violence will not bring change, it will only bring destruction. It’s wrong in every way, it divides instead of unites.”
With 64 days to go until the election, the campaigns have become consumed by the debate about racial justice, police reforms, peaceful demonstrations, riots, and which candidate is best equipped to heal the nation’s racial divide while keeping the public safe.
Biden's speech comes amid a blistering partisan fight over who is to blame for escalating incidents of violence and destruction from protests that have broken out across the country following the police killing of George Floyd and more recently, the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc. It also comes on the heels of a series of increasingly violent incidents in Kenosha and Portland that have captured the attention of the campaigns and the public.
Trump has accused elected officials in Democratic-run cities, such as Portland, Seattle and Kenosha, of allowing criminals to destroy their cities because they’re afraid of standing up to the racial justice protesters.
The Trump campaign blasted Biden in a statement, saying he did not call on Democratic officials to accept federal help or to call in the National Guard to restore order in cities reeling from civil unrest.
“These left-wing rioters are Joe Biden supporters trashing cities run by Democrats who support his candidacy,” said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh. “He has repeatedly given them cover by excusing their violence by calling them ‘peaceful protestors’ and accusing law enforcement of ‘stoking the fires of division’…it’s almost impossible to tell where his campaign ends and Antifa begins. You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
Biden on Monday mocked Trump campaign claims that he has been supportive of violent protests.
“Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?,” Biden asked. “I want a safe America. Safe from Covid. Safe from crime and looting. Safe from racially motivated crime and violence. Safe from bad cops. Let me be crystal clear – safe from 4 more years of Donald Trump.”
Some Democrats feel Biden should have been quicker to denounce the violent aspects of the protests, which have grown worse following the police shooting of Blake.
Top Democratic officials pivoted last week to calling for calm and condemning riots, with some growing worried that Trump’s law-and-order messaging, and his allegations that Democrats are standing by criminals, could hurt the party with some voters in November.
“If I were president my rhetoric would be less divisive,” Biden said Monday. “I’d be looking to lower the temperature in America, not raise it. I’d be looking to unite the nation.”
The Democratic nominee accused the president of encouraging his supporters to clash with protesters, which he said had led to deadly encounters in the streets.
Biden pointed to the young man — an apparent Trump supporter — who is accused of fatally shooting two people in Kenosha. The alleged shooter appears to have been part of a right-wing militia who traveled to Wisconsin from Illinois.
“[Trump’s] failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia…shows how weak he is,” Biden said. “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected? We need justice in America, we need safety in America. We’re facing multiple crises that under Donald Trump have kept multiplying…the common thread – the incumbent president who makes things worse, not better.”
Trump will travel to Kenosha this week to highlight how the city has been ravaged by civil unrest and to blame the elected Democratic leaders in the city he says have allowed the chaos to run unchecked through the streets.
Trump and the Republicans have mocked Democrats and the media for characterizing the protests across the country as “mostly peaceful.” They say Democrats have ignored the destructive elements and excused the large gatherings amid the COVID-19 outbreak so as not to appear critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The protests began as peaceful marches and demonstrations following Floyd’s killing in May.
But as the unrest has lingered in cities, such as Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Trump has accused Democratic leaders of allowing violence and destruction to endanger the lives of ordinary citizens in those cities.
Trump has been publicly battling Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D), calling him a “fool” over Twitter and insisting that the National Guard needs to be sent in to restore order.
One person was fatally shot in Portland over the weekend after clashes between Black Lives Matter protesters and Trump supporters.
Biden on Monday said Trump is trying to deflect blame for racial unrest that is happening under his watch.
“This is a sitting president of the United States of America,” Biden said. “He’s supposed to be protecting this country, but instead he’s rooting for chaos and violence. The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America so now he’s trying to scare America.”