Jun 4, 2020
Joe Biden Town Hall Transcript with Young Americans: Says 10-15% of Americans ‘Not Very Good People’
Joe Biden held a virtual town hall for young Americans with actor Don Cheadle. He faced some criticism for saying “10 to 15 percent” of Americans “are just not very good people.” Full transcript here.
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Joe Biden: (00:09)
The country is crying out for leadership. Leadership that can unite us. Leadership that brings us together. I look at the presidency as very big job and nobody will get it right every time. And I won’t either, but I promise you this, I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate. I’ll seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued our country, not use them for political gain. I’ll do my job and I will take responsibility. I won’t blame others. I promise you, this job is not about me. It’s about you. It’s about us to build a better future. That’s what America does. We build the future. It may in fact be the most American thing to do. This is the United States of America. There’s never been anything we’ve been unable to do when we set our mind to do it, and we’ve done it together.
Speaker 1: (01:11)
Welcome, and thank you for joining this evening’s Biden For President round table. Please welcome our moderator, Don Cheadle and Vice President Joe Biden.
Don Cheadle: (01:23)
Good evening, everyone. It is great to be with you, albeit virtually. We’ve come together this evening with the vice president and some very exciting young people who will be inheriting the mantle, so to speak, and are the future of this country. And we’ve come together tonight to ask the vice president some questions, as we’re all dealing with obviously the issues of today that are very pressing on our minds. What we’re seeing happening in our streets, what we’re seeing happening not only across the country, but across the world. And how it affects us and what can we be doing in the future to move the conversation forward, to move the society forward. And with the vice president, who is hopeful to be the next president, as are we, clearly he wants to hear from us and he wants to hear from you.
Don Cheadle: (02:20)
So no further ado, I would just like to say, welcome to all of you and hello, Mr. Vice President. And how are you doing tonight?
Joe Biden: (02:28)
I’m doing well, thank you for doing this.
Don Cheadle: (02:30)
Yes. I’m glad too. And I’m glad that we could come together. I want to mostly get out of the way and let this esteemed panel that we have dig in and ask you the questions that they want to ask you and really hear you guys back and forth because we need that right now, very, very desperately. But I would just like to start off by asking you who has seen all of these changes happen across many, many years. This is unfortunately a cyclical thing that we have seen, the institutionalized oppression that seems to somehow abate in a way, and then come back full force. And now that we are seeing these things with cameras, we see with video, that instantaneously goes around the world. We can see a lot of the things that people in the black community had been talking about for many, many years, every day, unfortunately. In these last several weeks, all too often. So in this environment, in this atmosphere, how do you keep optimistic? How are you looking forward to what we can do together and not looking backward toward the things that we have been unable to accomplish?
Joe Biden: (03:48)
Well, George Floyd’s last words spoke to a nation, where the color of your skin dictates the safety and your future. And as long past time that these words have to be acted upon. Look, let me make something clear. 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. Being 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.
Joe Biden: (04:28)
If we just let this wound scab over again, it’s never going to heal. As I said, George Floyd’s last words didn’t die with him. They’re echoing all across the country. And I think they speak onto to a nation where you have over 108,000 people who’ve lost their lives to a virus now. 40 million Americans have filed for… over 40 million for unemployment. A disproportionate number of the coronavirus cases and job losses are on African American and Latino communities. Matter of fact, Latino community even have a higher unemployment rate, lost jobs. The moment, it seems to me, it’s a wake up call for everybody, for all of us.
Joe Biden: (05:06)
And the moment I think has for our nation to deal with the systemic racism, to deal with the growing economic inequity in our nation. And to deal with the denial of the promise of this nation for so many. Early in the week, I laid out initial steps I thought that Congress should take immediately as it related to police conduct, outlaw choke hold, stop transfer weapons of war, meaning those Humvees and the rest, to dealing with armored vehicles to a police departments, improve oversight and accountability. Create a model use of force standard, because the country is crying out for leadership and the President of the United States must be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Joe Biden: (05:46)
And it’s my commitment to all of you as president, I’m going to lead on these issues and I’m going to listen. And let me just say, you asked why I’m optimistic still. I’m optimistic because one of the things I learned is that… and you’re not as old, but we’re older, that I thought we had made enormous progress when we finally elected an African American president. I thought things had really changed. But what I didn’t realize is what the historian says is that it’s a constant pull and tug in America. America is not a fairy tale. The constitution is not a fairy tale. It’s a constant struggle between good and evil as to who is going to prevail.
Joe Biden: (06:28)
And I believe in my heart of hearts that we can overcome and what if we stand together. And finally, as one America, we’re going to rise stronger than we were before, but here’s the deal. You can never… I’ve gone on too long. I apologize. Let me just say this.
Don Cheadle: (06:43)
No, please. This is what this is for.
Joe Biden: (06:44)
One of the things that I think is important is that I thought you could defeat hate… Excuse me. I thought you could defeat hate. That you could kill hate, but the point is you can’t. Hate only hides. And if you breathe any oxygen into that heat, it comes alive again. And the words of a president matter. And when I saw those folks, I hadn’t planned on running for president again, Don, for real, until I saw those folks coming out of the fields in Charlottesville, carrying those torches and chanting the same antisemitic vile they chanted in Nuremberg and in Berlin and in Germany in the thirties.
Joe Biden: (07:26)
And then a young woman was killed there, accompanied by white supremacists. And the president was asked, “What do you think?” And he said something no president has ever said. He said that, “There were fine people on both sides.” The point is this is a constant struggle. We have to constantly fight it though. As Martin Luther King talked, that arch does bend toward justice, but you got to fight it. You got to fight it. It will never be defeated. And this is a case where I think as we move as one, and I think the American people are ready to move. Black, white, Latino, Asian. I think they’re ready to move. We can, in fact, push it back. And if we stay vigilant. I really am hopeful, especially with the generation of young people we’re going to hear from you today. Their generation is the most engaged, least prejudice, most open, most well-educated generation in history. So I’m hopeful.
Don Cheadle: (08:19)
Correct. Well, I want to be hopeful too and I’m hopeful. And I have kids, two kids. They are 25 and 23, and we’ve all been in the streets together. We’ve been in these protests and I am very proud of them. I hope they are proud of themselves that they’ve taken this on and understand that this is, as you say, a fight that will continue and that you can’t really ever take a day off or think that you finally arrived at someplace. You have to constantly be vigilant and keep it moving. And in the interest of keeping it moving, I think I’m going to bring in our first panelists, who is… Our first panelist is Nila Cobb. And I would just like to have her introduce herself, share her story, and ask whatever question she has of you, Mr. Vice President. Nila, take it away.
Joe Biden: (09:14)
Nila Cobb: (09:15)
Hello. I wanted to start off by saying thank you for inviting us to this town hall and giving us the opportunity to speak with you. Like you said, I’m a Nila Cobb. I’m a student at Temple University studying political science and public relations. I’m a digital organizer with the campaign and president of Temple Students for Biden. And I’m from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Nila Cobb: (09:40)
And I’ve seen a shift within my community. Mr. Vice President, black and brown people are under attack in this country currently and have been historically. We’re disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the subsequent economic downturn. As a college student, I personally feel wrong by the current administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was preventable and we were all let down. The quarantine and the stress of it all, it has been maddening not knowing if I would fall ill or losing someone that I love. And then the death of George Floyd. Mr. Vice President, in addition to this pandemic we’re all facing, there’s a great fight we’ve now been forced to meet head on in our communities, across the country. As we’ve seen with these protests, people are fed up. What do you say to those who are extremely frustrated, who are calling for police reform and justice for George Lloyd, Ms. Brianna Taylor, and for many others who have been victimized by an abuse of power carried out by the police in their communities.
Joe Biden: (11:09)
I say, I see you. I hear you. And I’m angry as well, but we have to turn our anguish into purpose and use this moment to finally drive real change to our laws and our institutions and our culture. As I said, history teaches us that out of some of our darkest moments, we’ve made our greatest progress. Reverend Barber said it I think best. He said, ” In the mourning,” meaning when you mourn. “We find hope. In the mourning, we find hope.” We need an era of action that reverses systemic racism and it’s long overdue. And with concrete changes, I can’t wait until I’m president to get started. Right now, though, we have to move. We have to urge Congress to take action now, no excuses, no more delays. Outlaw choke holds, stop transfers of weapons, I said, destruction to police departments. Improve oversight and accountability.
Joe Biden: (12:01)
Create a model use force standard. As I said, within the first 100 days, I’m going to create a national police oversight commission. And the vast majority of police are decent and honorable, black and white and Latino. And they in fact are worried about the culture as well. I’ve long believed that we need real community policing, meaning that they have to get to know, get out of their vehicles, know the people in the communities. We need to review our hiring practices, our training practice, our deescalation practices and hold bad cops accountable. Hold bad cops accountable. We need economic justice as well. You know that as well as I do. We have more to say this the coming days. But to start, Congress must fix the racial disparity in the COVID recovery funds. Right now, those funds aren’t going to the right place.
Joe Biden: (12:50)
We need to pay essential workers, not just praise them. We have to pay them. And they tend to be minorities. We have to protect and expand Obamacare. He’s trying to get rid of it in the moment we need healthcare so badly. There’s so much work to do, not just in the presidency, but in my presidency, assuming I get elected, but in a generation. But I promise you I’m going to lead and I’m going to listen. And what are some of the things that we have to do?
Joe Biden: (13:14)
Well, there’s many things, but I think… Let me conclude your question by saying that your generation has gotten a real kick in the teeth. I have two granddaughters. I had one who just graduated from law school. I have another granddaughter who’s a rising senior in Philly as well. And I have a second granddaughter’s who’s a rising sophomore and this whole 9/11 generation all the way through the Z generation and the early millennials. From the time you got started, you’ve been in a position where the people who graduated six years before you graduated in a gigantic recession. They had great opportunities, but what happened? They didn’t have access to the jobs, the jobs weren’t there, no matter what your color, but particularly if you were an African American.
Joe Biden: (14:01)
And then now what’s happening with his COVID crisis, as well as the fact that we have this incredible unemployment rate, what’s happening now? I know my granddaughter had a great job out of law school. They told her you can’t come. You got to wait until March for things to start. I mean, no graduations. It’s just put your generation in a place where there’s reason to be concerned and angry well beyond, but including, dealing with systemic racism. And I think the country’s ready because the blinders have been taken off and they’ve seen the people who’ve been carrying the rest of the country and their back have been what we now call essential workers, people in minority communities, people who are driving everything from disinfecting operating rooms to the nurses, to making sure the grocery stores are open. They’re not only the people who are carrying us on their back, they’re the people dying and people didn’t know it before. They didn’t know it before.
Joe Biden: (15:02)
So I think they’re ready to deal with some of the systemic problems, starting with systemic racism. I really believe they’re ready for us to move. I think we have a gigantic opportunity to create real opportunity in the next four years.
Don Cheadle: (15:15)
Well, something that’s happened here in Los Angeles, the mayor has decided that he’s going to reappropriate $150 million from the police department to communities of color that are suffering. And do you think moves like this, things like this, could be used across the country? Are you behind-
Joe Biden: (15:35)
The answer is I know Eric, he’s a first rate… He’s on the [inaudible 00:15:39] of my campaign, as a matter of fact. He’s a first rate mayor and I think it makes sense. Some places, they’re short on having enough people to cover the community or others the police departments have a lot more than they need. And so it depends on the community, but it’s all about treating people with dignity, just treating people with dignity period. And sitting down-
Joe Biden: (16:03)
People with dignity period and setting down basic fundamental rules that relate to what constitutes adequate and fair police conduct. That’s what we have to focus on in my view.
Don Cheadle: (16:14)
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Vice president, and Nyla, thank you very much for your question. Next, we would like to hear from Ryan Wilson. Ryan is from Atlanta, Georgia. He’s a small business owner, and I would like to hear his question as well. Ryan, take it away.
Ryan Wilson: (16:32)
Mr. Vice President, it’s good to see you again.
Joe Biden: (16:34)
Good to see you, man.
Ryan Wilson: (16:36)
As we’ve discussed, I’m from Atlanta and I attribute a lot of my success to being from this city. I spent a little bit of time in DC. I went to Georgetown for undergrad and for law school, but I eventually came back to Atlanta because I wanted to start a business that was centered around people, around community. I was inspired by another tragic incident in our country’s history, the death of Trayvon Martin and together with one of my college roommates from Georgetown, this business has flourished because of our focus on bringing people together. What’s special about the Gathering Spot is that we’re more than a space that tolerates black folks, but really celebrates them. My question to you is this, if it’s true that you can’t truly lead people, if you don’t love people, how are you going to lead differently as the president of the United States, specifically for black Americans?
Joe Biden: (17:27)
Because I love people, you and I … I’ve been to your place twice for extended periods of time. What you didn’t say is it’s not only African-Americans, look at all the white leaders you’ve attracted. Look at all the people you’ve attracted to becoming part of a community, part of a larger community. I sat there, I don’t know. I guess I was in your place, maybe a total of six, seven hours, total of two times everything. I watched, I went around to the tables. People were there, there were religious leaders, black and white using your place together. There were young entrepreneurs, black and white and Asian looking at your place to gather. It’s about doing things together. The fact is that, look, I have never found it to be the case where my judgment about someone, whether I care about them has anything other than to do with their humanity.
Joe Biden: (18:15)
My dad used to have a saying for it. He said, “Joey, everybody’s entitled to be treated with dignity no matter what the circumstance.” I have no idea what it’s like to be treated in a prejudice way as a black man. But I do know what it’s like to be humiliated because when I was a kid, I used to stutter like that. I’m used to bullies. I’m used to people who take advantage of people. I’m used to people who in fact, just try to exert power for their own egotistical reasons. That’s the part of me in my household, you could never, ever, ever, ever, ever say, you get in a fight with somebody. You could never say anything about them that was true. You couldn’t say if they were 300 pounds, you couldn’t say you’re fat. You couldn’t say you’re skinny. You shouldn’t say you’re short.
Joe Biden: (19:02)
You could say if they are brilliant, you can say you’re dumb, but you could never say anything that they had nothing to do with having to have put upon themselves.
Don Cheadle: (19:14)
[crosstalk 00:19:14] very creative sparer, I guess. You had to come up with a lot of quick things to say that weren’t true.
Joe Biden: (19:19)
Well, yeah, yeah, you did but all kidding aside, Don, I mean, if we ever turned and said something, if somebody was homely and they did something really mean, and you said you’re ugly, you’d be in real trouble in my house. For real. None of my kids, my grandkids, it’s a tradition in our family because you know what it’s like to be victimized. I’m not equating it to being a black man, but I’m equating realizing who it is you care about. Everybody. I really do believe, I mean, I don’t want to proselytize, but I do believe we’re all God’s children for real. I really believe that. I believe we’re all created equal. The problem is, are we all going to be treated equally? It’s about being treated equally. The president of the United States must be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I’m not going to fan the flames of hate. I’m going to speak to heal racial differences. Look, I may conclude this by saying, because I want to get in a larger conversation with everybody conclude it by saying this.
Joe Biden: (20:26)
I think that if you think about it, the words of a president matter no matter who the president is. A president of United States can send a nation to war. It can bring peace. He can or she can make the market go up or down. He can also make people, he can encourage people to do bad things. What he or she says, how many of your friends do you know who have children who when the president comes on there, they pull them away from the TV? Not a joke. Think about it, think about it. It really matters. It really matters. Hate didn’t begin with Donald Trump. It’s not going to end with him. The history of our country is not a fairy tale. It doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, but as I said, we’re in a battle for the soul of this nation. That has been a constant push and pull for over 200 years.
Joe Biden: (21:20)
I call every American, ask themselves, ask them [inaudible 00:21:24] okay, is this who we are what we’re seeing now? Is this who we want to be? Is this what would pass onto our kids and our grandkids? I’ll do my job and take responsibility, but I won’t blame others. I’ll never forget that job isn’t about me. It’s about you. Is that how we’re teaching our kids? I work not only to rebuild this nation, but to build a better, stronger, more inclusive, more resilient than it really was. Look, if elected, my view is that you will have to, we’ll have to address these issues straight on, and the words the president says matter. When a 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.
Joe Biden: (22:09)
This president constantly talks about equality without lecturing, talks about and has administration that looks like the country and the rest. It changes attitudes. It’s about the attitude of the country. Do we really think this as good as we can be as a nation? I don’t think the vast majority of people think that. They’re probably anywhere from 10 to 15% of the people out there that are 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. Bring them together.
Don Cheadle: (22:46)
Ryan Wilson: (22:48)
Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
Don Cheadle: (22:51)
Thank you and also, thank you, Ryan, for your question. I would like to move now to jury. The Dejoiry McKenzie-Simmons is from Detroit, Michigan. Is an NAACP youth division board member. Jury. What is your question for the vice president?
Dejoiry McKenzie-Simmons: (23:09)
Good evening, Vice President Biden. I am Dejoiry McKenzie-Simmons. I was born in St. Peter, Barbados and came to the United States when I was two years old. I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, and I’m a 2019 graduate of Howard University. Sir, I remember when you came to Saginaw and some years after that visit, in 2012, my hometown witnessed the brutal killing of a black man whom at the time was a [inaudible 00:07:35]. He posed no threat in the situation and the police shot him 46 times and no justice was served. His name, Mr. Vice President, was Milton Hall. That injustice sparked me to do something. I joined the NAACP to be an advocate for equity and justice. That had been also solidified my decision in attending an HBCU. In these times, my HBCU cert is a sacred ground for healing, intellectual growth and a space to further develop my identity as a black man in this world. Education and job opportunities are important to black youth. I ask you, Mr. Vice President, what are your goals to sustain black educational institutions, and how will you ensure that HBCUs are provided adequate federal funding?
Joe Biden: (24:26)
Look, historic black colleges and universities have done so much with so little. That’s why I proposed for over a year, I’m going to invest $70 billion in HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. I’m going to ease student debt crisis by that particularly impacts now on African-Americans. Historically, black colleges and universities play a vital role in their communities and the country. They educate more than their fair share of low income and first generation students. My state, Delaware State University graduates nearly half of our state’s black college students. By the way, the president of Delaware State University used to work for me now. He was on my staff and I encouraged him to move on and he’s now the president of Delaware State University. He and I spent a lot of time at Howard, as you may know at Howard University as well, they’ve done so much with so little but severely under resourced for much too long.
Joe Biden: (25:22)
Now, as president, I’m going to make sure HBCUs get the funds they deserve. Invest over $70 billion in research centers to tackle challenges from climate change to cancer, high-tech labs and facilities, internships, and other programs for graduate students. Look, one of the things that happens if you take a look at the state universities, the University of Michigan or whatever state university where an HBCU is, you take a look at them. The reason why they compete for billions of dollars in government contracts, and the government contracts to deal with with major issues that relate to the future and training the best high quality people in technology, savvy people in the world. What we did by the way in our administration, we took money that we went down for example, the deal with the whole issue of what we’re going to do with what’s going on in terms of the illegal eavesdropping by the Chinese and the Russians and others on the American system and how we’re going to deal with it.
Joe Biden: (26:24)
We went down and provided money to set up laboratories and to graduate people out of HBCU near Roanoke, Virginia. What were we doing that for? They’ll have an opportunity to have high paying jobs and they get out in the sciences. University of Delaware does a lot of work. They have millions of dollars in contracts dealing with metallurgy to get into develop high end and very lightweight steel. For example, metallurgy that relates to allowing aircraft carriers to have thinner decks, they can go faster, but still handle the plane. There’s all kinds of medical research as well, but they need the laboratories and the infrastructure because you don’t have the endowments for that. I’m going to cut the cost of education for everyone. I’m going to fight to make sure the student debt crisis, which disproportionately affects African-Americans, we’re going to immediately forgive now, immediately forgive now, and Nancy Polosi put it in, $10,000 per person in any federal student loan. As president, I’m going to double Pell grants from six to $12,000.
Joe Biden: (27:29)
I’m going to have the cap on the student loan repayment. Instead of 5%, 10% of disposable income is 5% of your yearly income. I’m going to fix existing public service loan forgiveness programs, forgive $10,000 a year for five years for all those and all the remaining debt after after 10 years, if in fact you engage in public service. Forgive loans for any public college or private HBCU graduate making less, and a family making less than $125,000 a year. Forgiving loans, wipe them out completely. College degrees shouldn’t be the only path though to the middle class. I’m going to invest in partnerships between high schools and community college. My wife use to be a professor at the community college for years and businesses, so the students can earn industry credentials before they graduate. I’m going to offer two-year community college debt free.
Joe Biden: (28:18)
Look, it’s true, you can’t … I guess what I’m saying is that there’s so much we can do to give the African-American community and HBCUs in particular, an opportunity to do what they do best. Look at all the confidence you got going to an HBCU, to going to Howard. Most of my friends who I grew up with in here in town in Delaware, were African-Americans, became very successful. First, their kids get into the Harvards and the Yales and the Penns of the world. They go to HBCUs and they go to the graduate schools that are the Ivy League or the prestigious graduate schools. It really has a way of not only looking out for, but dealing with and encouraging and keeping African-Americans in school.
Joe Biden: (29:09)
Last point I’ll make is, my wife teaches at a predominantly minority classes in overwhelmingly, some are foreign students as well, at Northern Virginia Community College. Well, a lot of the students, you give free community colleges [inaudible 00:29:24] and they still can’t attend because they don’t have the money to be able to pay for the food, the books, the board, I mean, if they have to drive there or stay there. That’s why I’m going to double Pell grants from six to $12,000 to give real opportunity to people, genuine opportunity, but the HBCUs are the flagship, everybody forgets the reason they exist. They exist because you weren’t able to go to any other schools because of prejudice, because of segregation. It’s about time we set it right, give them the same foundation to build off of with laboratories and the like that every other major university has.
Dejoiry McKenzie-Simmons: (30:10)
Don Cheadle: (30:11)
Thank you for your question, Dejoiry. I like to hear you speaking about debt forgiveness, Mr. Vice President, that’s so important, especially when we’re seeing, as you spoke about your grandkids who are graduating and coming into this field of business now, trying to figure out what it is they’re going to do and carrying with them, these loans. It’s a very important thing to focus on because we’ve got to get people moving forward again, no question.
Joe Biden: (30:39)
By the way, Don, it was predicted just even before this crisis, that the economy was likely to slow overall because the graduates of the last 10 years and now, find themselves behind the eight ball, not having the jobs they thought they were going to have and losing time with student debt. Instead of being able to go make a down payment on the house, they got a $30,000 debt for going to a public university. I’m not talking about private universities, that’s a different issue. That’s a different issue. We got to figure out … We need that help, that $10,000 help now across the board.
Joe Biden: (31:14)
What happens is 85% of our economy is driven by consumption, consumers, and if this generation doesn’t have the money to buy houses, buy cars, take care of their major initiatives and bill, then we’re not going to grow at the same rate. It’s not only in the interest of the student with debt, like I graduated, I’m the first one in my family to go to college. It was a lot cheaper, but I was able to work and get through it and pay off the debt. My generic point is that you got to give people a shot. It’s an interest of everybody, everybody that in fact, we have more students getting degrees in the areas that we need people to grow on, and everybody.
Joe Biden: (32:03)
… and everybody.
Don Cheadle: (32:04)
Absolutely. And those who were disenfranchised and hurt the most by that, absolutely. Thank you for your question [Dejouri 00:00:12]. I’d like to move on to our next panelist. This is Jameesha Harris, she is from New Bern, North Carolina, and she’s an alderman actually. So very impressed and very glad that you were here. What is your question for the Vice President, Miss Jameesha?
Joe Biden: (32:27)
By the way congratulations, Alderman. I did the same thing, I became a council person, but it’s the same kind of principle. But they know where you live, it’s a hard job.
Jameesha Harris: (32:36)
Yes, it is. Thank you so much. Again, my name is Jameesha Harris. I’m originally from Albany, New York, and I moved to New Bern, North Carolina in 2010. And I always wanted to be a part of something bigger than what I was and a person that I met up with a good friend, [Talina Massey 00:00:32:55] invited me to my first NAACP meeting in New Bern and that lit the fire for me to go into my community that I represent, that I feel is marginalized, they’re lacking resources and it gave me the hope that if I run, I know that I can impact my community. So I decided to run and in 2017, I was elected as the youngest African American woman to serve on the Board of Alderman for the city of New Bern. Thank you.
Jameesha Harris: (33:28)
And I just continued from there. I started a nonprofit with my friends to Talina, Reggie and Marquez’s and it’s called Young Urban Professionals and what we do is we teach young entrepreneurs, marginalized individuals, minorities, how to start and maintain their business. I think that’s very important, especially now. And I had the opportunity to look over the things that you have out there on your agenda. And my question, because it’s so important, with nonprofits needing resources is that: What are some of the action steps in your plan that you’re going to be able to guarantee advancement for the economic mobility for black people and close the racial wealth and income gaps?
Joe Biden: (34:21)
Well, there’s a number of things. Let me start off by saying again, congratulations to what you do. We have something in common. I was listed for all the years I was a Senator as the poorest man in the United States Congress. No, I’m not joking. When I did my financial disclosure as Vice President, one of the folks in the press said, “It’s probable no man has ever assumed the office of vice president with fewer assets than Joe Biden.” I hope he wasn’t talking about intellectual assets.
Joe Biden: (34:50)
So my generic point is that I got involved because of civil rights in the ’60s and I’m a lifetime member of NAACP. They embraced me and the black church embraced me in my city and that’s how I got started and they gave me confidence to think maybe I could do something. Maybe I could do something. And like I said, I’m the first United States Senator I ever knew, it wasn’t like I… the most impressive person I ever knew in terms of stature was the family doctor. I didn’t know a banker, I didn’t know a lawyer. We didn’t grow up poor, but we grew up, I guess technically lower middle class. But my generic point is this: It gave me confidence. It gave me confidence that maybe I could change things and maybe change things a lot.
Joe Biden: (35:45)
I remember there’s a film somebody did about me and it had a picture of me with my mother and my mother asking what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said, “I just want to be somebody. I want to make a difference.” And it’s like both of you guys on the screen right now, you want to make a difference. Let me just do something worthwhile.
Joe Biden: (36:06)
And so for too long the deck’s been stacked against black Americans and today we’re bearing the brunt of that, of our COVID and economic crisis in the black community and it presents, this crisis opportunity, to rebuild a stronger, a more inclusive and I think more resilient middle-class. If you live in a home built by the same builder my home is built in, your home is going to be undervalued, valued less than mine. Schools are underfunded, the poverty rate is still twice what it is for white Americans among black Americans. Black workers disproportionately have low wage jobs without benefits and seeing the worst layoffs to today, right now. Experts predicted a disproportionate number of minority owned businesses won’t get any stimulus loans and the automation will displace African American/Latino workers at higher rates than it will white workers.
Joe Biden: (37:01)
So my plan for African Americans to close the wealth gap is to invest in African American home ownership. That includes my insisting that there will be a $15,000 first time home buyer tax credit for everyone. Which means that you know the bank will lend you the money because they know you’re going to get that down payment because it’s a tax credit, no matter what you make. Doubling the funding for the Obama/Biden state small business credit. For example, we set up a $1.5 trillion private window in small business drawing billions more, almost $30 billion of capital came in to sustain that $1.5. I’d double that to $3 billion a year.
Joe Biden: (37:48)
Support black workers in their fight for equal pay and labor rights and safe workplaces. Address maternal mortality that disproportionally impacts African American women, even African American women with means, with means, they’re the last to be… You go in the emergency room, you end up being the last one waited on. The last one taken care of. And so there’s a lot of institutional changes we can make, but we have to provide the ability… let me end it this way.
Joe Biden: (38:18)
The reason I ran for the county office, like you ran as an alderman, was to end red lining, end red lining. And so when Congress came along and the Democrats passed that $2 trillion proposal to stimulate the economy and the CARES Act, I said at the time what’s going to happen is the banks are supposed to lend to small businesses, right? Well guess what? 40% of the money for small businesses never went there because the big banks don’t… and this is cost free to the big banks, okay? We bailed them out before, okay? They’ve been bailed out. They’re supposed to lend the money. They weren’t willing to lend money to small businesses because unless you had an account with them already, you had credit with them already or you had a credit card, that wasn’t the way it’s supposed to work.
Joe Biden: (39:07)
We have a mainstream business loan program that has billions of dollars in it. Not one penny has been loaned out yet. Not one. Not one penny, not one. We’re in a situation where… what the bottom line is, we’ve got to change and insist the way in which we deal with the African American and the Latino community is just fundamentally different. And the Asian Pacific Islander community, we have to make sure they have the same access.
Joe Biden: (39:38)
So if you want to do business in the community, you’ve got a loan in that community, you’ve got to be engaged in that community. We can set up legislation that does that. The House is trying to do that right now. So it’s all about, ultimately, you being able to accumulate wealth. And how do most people accumulate wealth, to change their circumstance? In the housing they have, in the investment they have. And that’s why I call for a multibillion dollar investment in housing. And because look at all of the places that African Americans and poor folks are being… where neighbors are being gentrified, they can’t afford the housing. They can’t afford it at all. They can’t afford to have a house in Los Angeles, San Francisco, suburban Chicago, parts of Philly. So we’ve got to change the housing voucher system we have as well. No one should have to pay more than 30% in terms of what their rent is. And on top of all that, we’ve got to change the institutional structures. I know this is going on long, so long, but there’s so much we can do and I think we will do.
Joe Biden: (40:46)
For example, if you’re a single mom working, or even if you’re… I was a single dad for a while, raising children, it’s hard and I was making a good salary. I was a Senator, I was making $42, 000 a year after my wife and daughter got killed, raising two boys and I had help. I couldn’t afford any childcare. I didn’t have the money for it, couldn’t do it. You should have childcare. We should be in a position where you are able to have family leave and get paid for family leave.
Joe Biden: (41:13)
A lot of things that can change the quality of life for people and put them in a position where they’re not the ones that have to go out and do that $5 an hour job and leave their kids behind, et cetera. There’s a lot we can do. And with your help, we’re going to get it done. I really mean it, I’m confident the American people have finally… the bandaid has been ripped off, they’ve seen the people doing all the work for us and a lot of them are saying, “I didn’t know that, I didn’t know they had to do that.” Now’s the time to strike while we have a chance.
Don Cheadle: (41:52)
I actually would like to ask Jameesha a question and I hope it’s not putting you on the spot too much, but if it is forgive me, can you speak a little bit to everyone who is really focused on just the presidential election that comes along every four years and forgets all of the downballot voting that’s necessary and being an alderwoman and being a council person and how important that is and how these elections matter?
Jameesha Harris: (42:22)
Well, I’m so glad you asked that question because I am grassroots. I am always vocal. Anytime I have the platform to speak to anyone, I let them know how important their vote is because local elections affect you so much, your taxes, your roads, county elections. It’s so important for you to… I don’t care… not necessarily about the candidates, I’m saying what party, because I’m always vocal about making sure you know who your candidate is, but just make sure you know the policies, the platforms that they’re running on, because it affects you. Your taxes will go up, we do utility bills, so people really, really, really, really need to understand that it is so important to vote in every election, but even in your local election, because your alderman is going to be the one that represents you and is the voice for you on that board to make sure that those funds are being allocated justly.
Jameesha Harris: (43:24)
And me, I represent the second ward, it’s the minority ward and I wanted to make sure that those funds were being allocated properly to minorities, because we’ve always been on the back burner. And now it’s time to be able to make sure that there is things in place, policies in place that will uplift us and build our community. So please, please vote. Voting is so important in your local election.
Joe Biden: (43:49)
God love you. Absolutely positively you affect the quality of life of people in your districts more than the Senator does whomever he or she is. I mean, you really do. It matters.
Don Cheadle: (44:00)
Yeah. Thank you very much. I appreciate you allowing me to frame that for you. And thank you, Vice President for your answer. And now I would like to move this to Keith James he’s from Wilmington, Delaware, he’s a civil rights activist. And Keith, what is your question for the Vice President?
Keith James: (44:19)
First and foremost thank you, Mr. Vice President for allowing me to be here with you tonight. It’s wonderful to see you again. As Don said, my name is Keith James. As we spoke about on Sunday at Bethel AME here in Wilmington, and our city and state want to be heard. We’ve been conducting civil negotiations with our elected officials to bring peace and policy changes to our great state. From body cameras, to police oversight committees, and even re-visiting and looking to change some of the language used in our police use of force laws. We, as a state are committed to change. My question for you this evening is: If elected, how will you address systemic racial issues as it pertains to the criminal justice system and police to community interactions?
Joe Biden: (45:06)
Well, first of all, I want to tell you about this young guy. He is a very talented fellow. My daughter is a social worker. My daughter ran the criminal justice reform operation here in Delaware. She has her master’s in work and Keith wrote a really good book and she’s so honored and so am I, he dedicated it to her, to Ashley Biden. And I want to thank you for doing that. You got it right. You figured out who the really smart Biden in the family is, it’s Ashley. No, I really mean it. Thank you.
Joe Biden: (45:37)
Now look, Keith, here’s the deal. The federal government can do a lot to affect policy at a local level, but it ultimately is affected at the local level. It’s ultimately affected, I know you’re running for the Senate and you know a couple of the folks who work with me as well are now sitting senators in the African American community. And I, as a federal official, cannot tell the state that it can or cannot do certain things.
Joe Biden: (46:12)
For example, of all the people behind bars in the United States of America, 93 out of 100 are behind a county prison bar or a state prison bar. And so what Barack and I did, we worked like hell to get 39,000 people out of federal prisons and what I’m proposing is we provide for incentives to get the states to reduce their prison populations.
Joe Biden: (46:39)
For example, no one should be going to jail for a drug abuse problem. They should be going into mandatory rehab. That’s why I wrote the bill that required that there be drug courts. We don’t need to build more prisons, we need to build more drug rehab facilities, mandatory rehab facilities. Because drug is a problem and it is a problem for the person who has the addiction.
Joe Biden: (47:06)
Two, we should make sure that anybody gets out of jail, we can’t dictate this, we can do this for federal prisons, but I’m going to try to incentivize states to do it by giving them extra money. Anyone who in fact gets out of prison and is served their time, should automatically be eligible for every program that exists in the federal government. Right now, they can’t get a Pell Grant to go to school, right now they can’t get public housing. Right now they can’t… I could go down the list. They’re denied every single thing. And you know, I’ve made these speeches in the [Gold Bar 00:47:44] with the big high paying business guys. I tell them it’s it’s in their interest, their interest that we pay money and our taxes, to see to it that someone can be rehabilitated.
Joe Biden: (47:57)
Right now all that happens is you get out of prison and you get $25 bucks and you-
Joe Biden: (48:03)
You get 25 bucks and you get a bus ticket. You end up under the Third Street bridge. That’s what happens. But if you’re able to come out and qualify to go on get a student loan to go because you qualified to go for free to Del State or to community college or wherever you are able to get into, and you can get Pell grants at 12,000 grand a year, you can begin to build your life. And we also should be in a position where anyone convicted, for example, of a marijuana conviction, automatically that should be expunged so when you get asked a question, “Have you ever been convicted?” You can honestly say, “No,” because you have to put it down now on a job application, right? There’s a whole range of things we could be doing.
Joe Biden: (48:50)
Why does it not make sense that since we know one thing that all criminals have, “convicted” people have in common that go to jail on balance, regardless of their race, is they’re not very good readers. They don’t have much of an education. And they tend to, if they’re violent criminals, come from a family where they were physically abused or they saw their mother abused. Why does it not make sense to deal with those problems while they are in prison? Why not have drug rehab in prison if it’s another crime for what you went, but you have a drug problem? That’s not why you’re there. Why does it not make sense? I think you may have helped Ashley try to get the provision passed, where she got the criminal justice outfit to buy a tire store. Train people in prison to know how to change and fix tires, retread tires, by the facility, the state by the facility, train them while they are there so they have a job waiting for them when they get out.
Joe Biden: (49:59)
Why don’t we do that? We’re spending money the wrong way. We shouldn’t be building any more prisons. And that’s why I opposed the provision in the bill that I had passed that provided more money for state prisons, no more federal prisons, state prisons. We should end all mandatory sentences. It makes no sense. And so there’s a lot of things we can do and we can do it now. But I know you know this because I know your activity. I know your interest. And keep it going. Keep it going because I’d tell you. No, I really mean it. You can change things. You can genuinely change things.
Joe Biden: (50:38)
The truth is we can’t afford to wait. The country needs solutions now and the problems exist now. I urge the Congress to take these actions immediately and urge young guys like you get involved and start at a state level the same thing. It’s the same thing. There’s so much more to say, but I’ve already said too much. And can I ask you a question?
Keith James: (50:58)
Joe Biden: (50:59)
What you most get asked about in the community now? I met you down at East Side at Bethel with Reverend Beaman. I’ve seen you before. You know, it’s one of my old haunts but when you’re together with people your age in a neighborhood, what are they talking about now? I mean, for real, practically, not generically, just what concerns the most?
Keith James: (51:27)
To be honest with you, they asked me questions like do you really think you can bring change or change this system? And I respond to them, yes, because people like your daughter, Ashley, who took me under her wing. And one of the things she told me was write a book you will want to read. And that’s why I dedicated it to her. People like the JJ Francis’ of the world who just help us to be better as a community. So I answered yes to them each and every time they asked me that, but it’s hard for them to see it because our system has been broken for some time. And I understand that and I understand why they have distrust in the system, but it’s my responsibility and my commitment to make sure that we restore hope in our communities, and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Joe Biden: (52:15)
Did you [crosstalk 00:52:16] see what happens when the system breaks down?
Keith James: (52:18)
Joe Biden: (52:18)
This guy deliberately broke the system. He thinks government is bad Trump. The reason that doesn’t work, he thinks it isn’t designed to work. He doesn’t know how to make it work. It’s all about breaking it down. And it started with the Reagan era. Government is bad. Your problem is government. Well, let me tell you. Wealthy people don’t need government to protect them, but poor folks, white, black, all colors, all backgrounds, they need the government to protect them, otherwise they get taken advantage of. It’s just about power. The ultimate sin, my daddy say, the greatest sin of all is the abuse of power, abuse of power, whether it’s economic power, political power, or physical power, it’s the abuse of power. And that’s why we need young men like you and young women on this call to be engaged in the politics of changing what’s happening in the street.
Joe Biden: (53:14)
It really does matter. Now look, I don’t want them to paint this all rosey. Let me conclude by saying, look, the act of protesting should never be allowed to overshadow the reason for the protest. The act of protesting should never be allowed to overshadow the reason for the protest in the first place. And what I worry about tomorrow night in Wilmington, for example, there was a lot of really good people. I’m not going to be here. I’m going to be up in Pennsylvania, but tomorrow night, and what I worry a little bit about, is you and many other are going to be out there protesting legitimately for change. But we can’t allow the protesting to overshadow the purpose of the protest. So there’s going to be a lot of folks who are going to want to cause trouble, some cops, but some folks too.
Joe Biden: (54:13)
And so it’s going to take young leaders like you to begin to change things in the city again and get reengaged in the city. An awful lot of people, Don, did very well. The guys I grew up with, everyone from Lafayette, Jackson, Spencer, Henry, all these guys who I grew up with, where it became very successful what they did. But what’s happened is that the last two mayors ago, African American mayors we’ve had, have called me and said, “Joe, whenever there was a problem before, every major successful African American businessman would be in my office, see what can do to help.”
Joe Biden: (54:55)
Problem is you tell them they’re not in the office anymore, a lot of them.
Keith James: (55:00)
Joe Biden: (55:01)
They’re not being brought back in because they’ve said, “I’ve got other things they got to do.” But now you have young leaders like our current, like you and others that I met with, including dealing with not just the NAACP, with guys like been around a while like mouse, but also dealing with the new guys that are coming up and dealing with new organizations. And I feel something’s changing here. It’s starting to move again.
Keith James: (55:34)
Joe Biden: (55:34)
And I think you’re going to be part of that.
Keith James: (55:38)
Yes, sir. You have my commitment that we’re going to do everything we can to keep the peace tomorrow. I trust the leadership that’s out there. I trust the leadership of our police department, and of our mayor, and of our governor. So we’re going to do everything in our power to keep the peace, and I’m sure we’re going to have a great night and policy changes coming soon.
Joe Biden: (55:59)
As a friend of mine used to say, from your lips to God’s ears.
Keith James: (56:02)
Don Cheadle: (56:04)
Well, thank you very much for your question, Keith. And I would just like to thank all of you for being here and everyone who’s watching. This is important. I hope this is not the last time that you convene a panel in this way, that we have young people who can ask their questions directly to the Vice President. And we can look forward to engagement like this as we move toward November and obviously beyond irrespective of what happens, although I know everyone on this call hopes for one eventual outcome. We have to keep pushing no matter what. So I want to say thank you to Nylah. Thank you to Ryan. Thank you to Xurie. Thank you to Tamisha. Thank you, Keith. And of course, thank you Vice President for being here, and thank you for convening and keep fighting. Stay safe. We have a long way to go. Any closing words, Mr. Vice President?
Joe Biden: (57:03)
Well, Don, I do a lot of these meetings like this, and with your permission, I’ll contact you and see if we can get you to do more of this. But we have these, we call them round table discussions, from everything from first responders to women in the community, to dealing with whatever the issues are, to have them tell me what their problems are. And sometimes with good reason, they’re angry. They don’t think that I’ve proposed enough to get things done and they may be right. But what I found is I learn from them. What I find is that there is an emerging new sense of the need to be engaged, to be involved, just to make things just a little bit better, and we can make it a lot better.
Joe Biden: (57:56)
Because I really do think, Don, I’ll conclude by saying when I was coming up as a kid, I’m not making myself onto any great civil rights guy or big hero, but we’d desegregate movie theaters. And anyway, no, I was no big player. But I remember at a time in the early, when Bull Connor down in Birmingham, and you know a lot about this because you helped my buddy ion Alabama win, American people heard about how African Americans were treated and lynchings and all the things that were talked about back then, but people who lived in communities where there weren’t any African Americans, they just didn’t really believe that stuff happened. I mean, they thought it, but they didn’t see it.
Joe Biden: (58:49)
And Bull Connor thought he was going to stake a wooden stake in the heart of the civil rights movement when he sigged those dogs on those African American women in their Sunday best going to church, ripping skin off them with the fire hoses, having dogs to go after the kids and the like. And what happened then? As Dr. King said, paraphrasing, it awakened the nation like, Oh my God, this really happens? This really happens? We ended up with the Civil Rights Act. We ended up with the Voting Rights Act. It was a change because people around the country aren’t bad people, but they’re not engaged said, “I didn’t, you know, I understand that.”
Joe Biden: (59:29)
But when they saw it, it radicalized them into saying we got to act and it worked. I think that what Donald Trump has done and what was happened in a eight minute, and I think it’s 47 seconds, with a white cops knee on the neck of a guy smashed against the curb. I think it’s like, “Oh my God. Oh my God.” We see it in direct color. It’s technicolor. They’re looking at it, said, “Oh my God, I can’t breathe.” And the country now is having trouble breathing. They’re angry. And I think they’re ready to move. And we have to change the institutional structures, everything from police brutality, racism writ large, but also the things that make life better for people, access to healthcare, everybody, access to daycare, access to education, access, access, access to begin to rebuild a community and give people a shot.
Joe Biden: (01:00:43)
Anyway, I’m sorry, but I feel pretty passionate about it. And again, if I have the passion, I can only imagine how you feel. I can only imagine how you feel.
Don Cheadle: (01:00:55)
Well, we hope to be able to use the passion to organize a better way forward. And hopefully when we have a new president in the White House who shares that passion that we have and that anger and that unrest, we can find ways to use the alchemy of the system, where it is and where it can be, to get some of this legislation passed that will start to break down these systematic and institutionalized structures that have brought us so much pain.
Joe Biden: (01:01:33)
You may remember. When they asked me to campaign down in Alabama. They said, “What’s we want Biden in Alabama for?” Okay? Well guess what? We’re going to win back the United States Senate. We have to win the United States Senate back.
Don Cheadle: (01:01:48)
Joe Biden: (01:01:49)
Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, places we hadn’t been able to compete before. We’re going to win back to the United States Senate. That’s going to change the ability of the next president to be able to make real change.
Don Cheadle: (01:02:05)
From your lips, as someone said, from your lips to God’s ear.
Joe Biden: (01:02:10)
Yeah. Well thank you very much. And we’ll do this again, team. I promise you.
Don Cheadle: (01:02:16)
Well, thank you. We’re going to hold you to that.
Joe Biden: (01:02:18)
Don Cheadle: (01:02:19)
Joe Biden: (01:02:20)
Don Cheadle: (01:02:21)
Once again, thank you all tonight. This has been a great conversation and I look forward to having many more. Everybody stay safe out there and come back.
Joe Biden: (01:02:29)
Social distance and wear your masks.
Don Cheadle: (01:02:33)
Wear your masks. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your nose.