Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Friday called President Donald Trump's comments earlier in the day about George Floyd looking down from heaven and seeing a "great day" for the country "despicable."
"Before I speak to the economic situation, I have to take a moment to address something that the president said this morning. Toward the end of his remarks, President Trump said that he hopes that, quote, 'George Floyd is looking down and seeing this is a great day for our country,'" Biden said at a news briefing in Dover, Delaware.
"We’re speaking of a man who was brutally killed by an act of needless violence and by a larger tide of injustice that has metastasized on this president’s watch as he’s moved to split us based on race and religion, ethnicity," Biden added. "George Floyd's last words, I can't breathe, I can't breathe, have echoed all across this nation and quite frankly around the world."
He continued: "For the president to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd I frankly think is despicable."
Trump made the comments during a last-minute news conference to discuss the morning's job report. His remarks about Floyd -- a black man who died on Memorial Day after he was pinned down by a white Minnesota police officer-- came after Trump said governors should use the National Guard to "dominate the streets" to help quell unrest sparked during protests over the man's death.
Trump, added from scripted remarks that "every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, color, gender, or creed."
Biden's criticism is the latest salvo in a war of words over racial injustice and ongoing protests that have galvanized the nation.
“The words a president says matter. So when the President stands up and divides people all the time, you're going to get the worst of us to come out. The worst in us all to come out,” Biden said Thursday evening during a virtual town hall.
“Do we really think this is as good as we can be as a nation? I don't think the vast majority of people think that. There are probably anywhere from 10 to 15% of the people out there, they're just not very good people. But that's not who we are. The vast majority of people are decent. We have to appeal to that and we have to unite people, bring them together," Biden added, echoing a rhetorical question he asked during his speech earlier this week in Philadelphia.
The comment came amid a town hall with Young Americans hosted by actor Don Cheadle, in which much of the discussion focused on race, in the midst of protests across the country of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Biden’s comments have drawn parallels with past candidate comments have generalized a portion of the population in more incendiary ways.
During the 2012 election, videotaped comments of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at a fundraiser suggesting that 47% of the population does not pay income taxes, are "dependent on the government" and feel "entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,” created wide-spread criticism of the now-Senator.
Biden began Thursday night’s discussion, which heard from several young black community leaders who asked Biden about his policy agenda, with an acknowledgement of the privileges he is afforded in American society as a white man.
“I'm a white man. I think I understand, but I can't feel it. I mean I feel it, but I don't know what it's like to be a black man walking down the street and be accosted. To a black man walking down the street be arrested, be a black man walking down the street and God forbid something worse happened to me,” Biden said.
The former vice president, who pledged to hold similar conversations in the future, echoed some of the sentiment from a speech he gave earlier this week following a weekend of protests that were marred by outbursts of violence and looting.
“Hate didn't begin with Donald Trump. It's not gonna end with him. The history of our country is not a fairy tale,” Biden said. “We're in a battle for the soul of this nation that has been a constant push and pull for over 200 years. I call every American to ask themselves, ask them the following-- is this who we are, what we're seeing now? Is this we want to be? Is this what we will pass on to our kids and our grandkids?”
President Trump has often been accused of stoking division during his over three years in office, most recently for his decision to clear out peaceful protesters from a park in front of the White House in order for him to walk across the street for a photo op at St. John’s Church, which was partially set on fire during protests last week.
The president has defended the decision, which was widely condemned, and tweeted a letter Thursday written by his former attorney John Dowd addressing former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that labeled the protesters outside the White House "not real" and "terrorists."
Trump has also often used rhetoric that stokes racial tension throughout his campaign and three years as president, and came under heavy criticism in 2017 when he said there were “very fine people on both sides” of clashes in Charlottesville, Va. during a white supremacist rally.