Last night’s joint session of Congress speech revealed a president torn between two worlds. Most of the speech represented a familiar Joe Biden—pragmatic, centrist, and interested in finding common ground. This was the President Biden that Americans of both sides of the aisle knew, the one who really could call for unity and appear sincere to Americans, whether they voted for him or not.
But peppered throughout his speech were lurches to the far left. In those moments, the president appeared less comfortable, torn between his instincts on what is right and appeasing an increasing radical progressive element within his own party. Nowhere was this more apparent than in his discussion of policing reform.
Long considered a friend to law enforcement, President Biden began the portion on policing in a way that the rest of his party has abandoned—by recognizing that most police officers serve honorably and heroically. It was a refreshing departure from the left’s anti-police rhetoric, and the president appeared comfortable saying it. But then the lurch to the left occurred and the president promoted the concept of a racist America, and policing as a racist institution. He claimed that policing is a “knee on the neck of Black Americans,” a reference to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. And he referred to “systemic racism” in law enforcement while urging passage of the George Floyd Act that recently passed the U.S. House.
It is hard to square those two concepts. How can policing be both systemically racist with its knee on the neck of Black Americans but mostly filled with heroic individuals serving honorably? Can we have racist heroes in a racist system doing heroic but racist deeds? We must pick a lane. The left has made that difficult by redefining racism from its vile original definition to simply meaning anything that the left disagrees with. That is very unfortunate, because it provides cover for actual racism where it occurs.
This president cannot really believe that America is a racist nation, can he? Biden served as vice president under our first Black president and selected as his own vice president our first Black woman. Both administrations were elected by Americans—an unlikely feat in a racist nation. And yet the president claimed that white supremacy is the greatest threat to our nation. Not surprisingly, he also called the Capitol riots “the greatest attack on our democracy since the civil war.” Tying the two together was more than a coincidence. Remarkably absent from his critique were the continuous attacks on our republic in cities across the nation for the last 12 months.
The George Floyd Act, which ironically doesn’t include anything that would have changed the outcome for George Floyd, is offensively representative of the left’s hatred for police. One officer put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes; the other 800,000 officers in this country did not. That one officer was convicted of second degree murder for doing it. Making that singular event somehow representative of policing in America is repulsive to police officers and those who support them.
The bill that President Biden urged passage of includes a broad prohibition on deadly force and reinvents the use-of-force standard.
The broad prohibition on deadly force mandates that a federal agent may only use deadly force if, among a variety of other things, “the use of the form of deadly force creates no substantial risk of injury to a third person.” Police shootings are already pretty rare, but shootings where there is “no substantial risk to a third party” are difficult to imagine in most settings, seeing that bullets are capable of going great distances. And what would a federal air marshal do if a plane were being hijacked? Shooting a suspect on a plane would never be allowed with this language. There are a lot of third persons in harm’s way there. If there had been an air marshal on one of the planes that flew into the twin towers on 9/11, this proposed law would have prevented the marshal from stopping the terrorists.
From “shoot them in the leg” to “fire two blasts outside the house” it is clear that the president is not an expert on policing or firearms. That’s ok so long as he surrounds himself with those that are. But the George Floyd Act is not representative of responsible reform ideas, and the president should separate himself from it.
Matters on which the president is torn between his instincts, honed by his long tenure in the Senate, and the radical fringe elements of his party are precisely where he must show leadership. Policing—and our nation—depend on it.