By CBS3 Staff

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden was in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning, addressing the unrest across the United States following George Floyd’s death. As the presidential election approaches, Biden emphasized the country is in “the battle for the soul of this nation.”

 

“We’re in the battle for the soul of this nation, what we believe most importantly, who we want to be is all at stake,” Biden said.

Across the nation, peaceful protesters have been heard chanting, “I can’t breathe.”

Those were the last words of George Floyd, the African American man who died while Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck as he was being arrested. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

“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 being echoing across this nation.”

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Biden says those three words speak “to a nation where too often just the color of your skin puts your life at risk.”

“We’re not going to let any president quiet our voice, we won’t let those who see this as an opportunity to sow chaos, throw up a smoke screen to distract us from the very real grievances at the heart of these protests,” Biden said.

As the protests continue, he says the country can no longer turn away from the systematic racism issues in our country.

“We can’t leave this moment thinking that we can once again turn away and do nothing, we can’t do that this time. We just can’t,” Biden said. “The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism. To deal with the economic inequity that exists in our nation. To deal with the denial of the promise of this nation made to so many.”

The former vice president called on congress to pass legislation to outlaw chokeholds by police and to move on to other reforms toward racial justice.

Biden said the proposed changes cannot wait for his first 100 days in office. He says the president has failed in his duty to care for all Americans.

Biden blistered President Donald Trump for directing authorities to drive back peaceful protesters outside the White House “in order to stage a photo op,” saying Tuesday that the commander in chief “is more interested in power than in principle.”

“When peaceful protesters are dispersed by the order of the president from the doorstep of the people’s house, the White House — using tear gas and flash grenades — in order to stage a photo op at a noble church, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle,” Biden said. “More interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people in his care.”

Biden’s criticism comes a day after Trump threatened the nation’s governors that he would deploy the military to states if they did not stamp out violent protests over police brutality in the wake of the George Floyd killing that have roiled the nation. Police under federal command eventually forced back peaceful demonstrators in Washington with tear gas so the president could walk to a nearby church and pose with a Bible.

“Look, the presidency is a big job. Nobody will get everything right. And I won’t either,” Biden plans to say. “But I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate.”

Biden is trying to create a stark contrast with Trump, who has embraced the language of confrontation and war, casting himself as the “president of law and order.” Trump signaled he would stake his reelection on convincing voters his forceful approach was warranted in a time of national tumult and racial unrest.

For more on the George Floyd protests, click here

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.