Meeting with Black business owners and community leaders in Charlotte, former Vice President Joe Biden said the country “has a gigantic opportunity” to address racism in America.
Biden took a markedly different tone than President Donald Trump on race relations in the United States. “We have a gigantic opportunity, a gigantic opportunity to fundamentaly change the systemic racism and the systemic problems that exist in our system.”
“How do we change the dynamic?” the Democratic presidential nominee asked. “As bad as things have gotten, the blinders have sort of been taken off the American people now," he said.
"They look out there and we have the pandemic, unemployment, we have race relations that have just been drawn into focus, and everything from police brutality to lack of access," Biden said. "The American people have all of a sudden, average people, have gone, 'My lord, holy mackerel, I didn't know it was that bad.'"
At an event billed as a “Black Economic Summit” at Camp North End, an arts district in the Queen City, Biden talked about a wide range of issues facing Black communities, including access to education, economics, and public health.
“The African American community by and large finds itself at the bottom of the economic heap,” Biden said. “When things get bad, they’re the first ones in the hole. When things get better, they’re the last ones out.”
Biden said his plan is ultimately about building wealth in the African American community by investing in education, home ownership, and small businesses.
He also said he would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than double the $7.25 an hour it is now. “No one should be working a 40-hour job and still live in poverty,” Biden said.
This is Biden's first visit to North Carolina since the pandemic began. The state has become a battleground for the presidential candidates who are essentially tied in the polls.
Trump will make his own visit to Charlotte on Thursday, his fifth visit to the state in as many weeks.
Biden laid out his plan to give $70 billion to historically Black colleges and universities over a decade.
He said many HBCUs don’t have the resources that many other universities have, like the endowments at the University of North Carolina or Wake Forest University.
This funding would give the resources to HBCUs to expand programs to train students in emerging fields like cybersecurity.
“It’s about opportunity,” he said.
Biden also said his administration would put money into keeping teachers in the profession and giving poor communities more funding to attract teachers. The federal government currently gives $15 billion a year to the poorest school districts, Biden said. He wants to increase that to $45 billion.
"What it does is it keeps teachers in schools. Right now we're short teachers significantly," he said. Biden also called for getting more school psychologists in the nation's schools.
He said his plan would put all 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children in school, pointing to the proven benefits that preschool gives children to keep them in school.
As of this week, more than 200,000 people in the United States have died from the coronavirus, according to public health officials. The virus has hit African American people harder than white people, Biden said, pointing to a higher rate of catching the virus and of dying from it.
The higher death rate for African Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, Biden said, “it's emblematic of the inequality that exists.”
"It didn't have to be this bad," he said.
Biden put responsibility for the county’s response to the epidemic on Trump. “The virus wasn’t his fault, but the way he’s handled it has been close to criminal,” he said.
Biden also blamed Trump for the handling of coronavirus relief funds, saying that only 40 percent of funds meant to help struggling small businesses went to small businesses.
“Sixty percent of it has gone to the Mar-a-Lago crowd,” he said, referring to the president’s exclusive golf club in Florida.