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Biden calls for police reforms, accuses Trump of military crackdown on protesters

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida Supreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama MORE on Tuesday called on Congress to enact police reforms to address racial inequality and accused President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE of using the military to crack down on demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd to appeal to his base of supporters.

Speaking from City Hall in Philadelphia, one of the dozens of cities wracked by racial civil unrest after Floyd’s death, Biden explicitly accused the president of abusing his authority as commander in chief by instructing military personnel to scatter protesters so that he could “stage a photo op at a noble church.”

“When peaceful protesters dispersed in order for a president ... to use tear gas and flash grenades in order to stage a photo op — a photo op — at one of the most historic churches in the country … we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle, more interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people in his care,” Biden said. “For that’s what the presidency is — a duty to care about all of us, not just our voters, not just our donors, but all of us.”

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Trump ordered military personnel to clear the area around the White House on Monday night so that he could walk across the street to pose for a photo holding a Bible in front of the historic St. John’s church, which was set on fire by vandals over the weekend.

Without warning, military police repeatedly fired tear gas and smoke bombs into the peaceful crowd of hundreds of protesters in front of Lafayette Square Park ahead of Trump’s trip to the church.

“The president held up the Bible at St. John’s church yesterday,” Biden said on Tuesday. “I just wished he’d open it once in a while instead of brandishing it. If he’d opened it he would have learned something. We’re all called to love one another as we love ourselves. It’s really hard work, but it’s the work of America.”

“Donald Trump isn’t interested in doing that work,” Biden continued. “Instead, he’s preening and sweeping away all the guardrails that have long protected our democracy, guardrails that have made possible this nation’s path to a more perfect union. It’s a union worth fighting for and that’s why I intend to run for president.”

Trump’s campaign fired back, accusing Biden of standing with “the rioters, the people burning businesses in minority communities and causing mayhem, by donating to post bail for those arrested.”

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“He has obviously made the crass political calculation that unrest in America is a benefit to his candidacy,” said campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson.

Monday night marked the fourth night of civil unrest in Washington, D.C. Protesters have swarmed the streets in dozens of other cities across the nation as well to demand justice for Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest.

Protesters and law enforcement have clashed in the streets. Some demonstrations have been peaceful, while others have been marred by violence, vandalism and looting.

Biden on Tuesday acknowledged that there is “no place for violence, no place for looting or destroying property or burning churches or destroying businesses.” He also said that many of the hurt business are “built by people of color who for the first time in their lives are starting to realize their dreams and build wealth for their families.”

But the former vice president largely trained his focus on what he described as police overreach into “excessive violence” to quell the angry protests over Floyd’s death.

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“Nor is it acceptable for the police sworn to protect our people to escalate tension or resort to excessive violence,” Biden said. “We need to distinguish between legitimate peaceful protests and opportunists' violent destruction. We have to be vigilant about the violence being done by this incumbent president to our economy and to the pursuit of justice.”

The speech, which was carried live on cable and broadcast news, is Biden’s first major public address since the coronavirus outbreak, which had kept him marooned at home in Delaware.

Biden opened his remarks by repeating the final words Floyd spoke as the officer knelt on his neck before he died.

“'I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,'” Biden said. “George Floyd’s last words. But they didn’t die with him. They’re still being heard. They’re echoing across this nation.”

The former vice president pointed to several bills he said Congress could pass right away to address police brutality, including legislation that would outlaw chokeholds, limit the transfer of “weapons of war” to police departments, and create a new oversight and accountability model for use of force within police departments.

“No more excuses no more delays,” he said. “If [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Trump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE [R-Ky.] can bring the U.S. Senate to confirm Trump’s unqualified judicial nominees, who will run roughshod over our Constitution now, it’s time to pass legislation that will give true meaning to our constitutional premise of equal protection under the law.”

--This report was updated at 11:36 a.m.