WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – US Democratic nominee Joe Biden commemorated Juneteenth on Friday (June 19) by reiterating his commitment to fighting racial inequities, seeking to strike a contrast with President Donald Trump, who has struggled to address issues of race and justice amid continuing nationwide protests against police brutality.
Mr Biden joined top Democrats by video Friday evening at JusticeCon, a social justice forum organised by Faith For Black Lives in partnership with The Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York. It included sessions on policing, building political power and policies to address systemic racism.
“I vow to you that I will bring every ounce of my faith and my work to the task of rebuilding America in a way that finally delivers the full share of equality, opportunity and dignity to Black Americans,” Mr Biden said in the four-minute recorded video played at the convention. “It’s going to require overwhelming moral response that reaches into every aspect of our society.”
In an op-ed published in Essence magazine, Mr Biden said the Juneteenth holiday, which marks the emancipation of Black Americans from slavery, “reminds us of just how vulnerable our nation is to being poisoned by systems and acts of inhumanity.”
Mr Trump had planned to restart live campaigning with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Friday. He rescheduled the event to Saturday under pressure. There are no official events on his schedule to mark the holiday.
Mr Trump said this week that he made Juneteenth famous, an assertion that Mr Biden told donors during a virtual fundraiser on Friday was “preposterous.”
Mr Trump has long backed strong police tactics but has called for improved training on use of force in response to protests sparked by the death in Minneapolis of Mr George Floyd, a black man, in police custody. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal released Thursday, Mr Trump said that although there is “some” systemic racism, it was improving in the US.
“I’d like to think there is not, but unfortunately, there probably is some. I would also say it’s very substantially less than it used to be,” he said.
But then on Friday, he warned that protests against his rally would face a harsh response.
Mr Biden has spoken in support of the protests and pledged his administration would work to reform the police and address racial inequities.
“The pain engulfing us today demands an overwhelming response-we need a comprehensive agenda that tackles inequity in every part of our society,” Mr Biden wrote in Essence, detailing his plan for Black Americans that would aim to close racial gaps in wealth, education, health, justice, voting rights and the environment.
Mr Biden said during the Friday fundraiser that he had spoken this week with descendants of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and voiced optimism about young Americans’ desire for change.
He said Douglass’s great-great-great grandson offered a quote from his ancestor: “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Mr Biden added: “There’s an awful lot of strong children out there I think are ready to fix things.”
Juneteeth has gained broader exposure this year as it falls after weeks of national unrest over police brutality and the unequal treatment of Black Americans.
Virginia and New York said Juneteenth would be a paid holiday for state employees for the first time, and large corporations, including Target, Twitter and Nike have done the same for their workers.
Republican Senator John Cornyn said Thursday he plans to introduce legislation to make the day, first celebrated in his home state to commemorate the day slaves there learned of Emancipation, as a federal holiday.
Marked annually on June 19, the day is “an opportunity to reflect on our history, the mistakes we have made, but yet how far we’ve come in the fight for equality, and a reminder of just how far we still have to go,” Mr Cornyn said on the Senate floor.
Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Val Demings, all of whom are in consideration to be Mr Biden’s running mate, also spoke at the JusticeCon virtual conference. Other speakers included Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Cory Booker, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Rashad Robinson, the president of Colour of Change.