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Leonard Pitts Jr.: We expect better of Joe Biden

Leonard Pitts Jr.: We expect better of Joe Biden

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the first presidential debate against U.S. President Donald Trump at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on September 29, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Asked about race at the first presidential debate, one candidate gave a very disappointing answer.

The other was Donald Trump.

Which is not to suggest Trump had satisfactory answers. To the contrary, asked by moderator Chris Wallace why America should trust him to heal its racial wounds, he was, as is his norm, nonsensical and miles wide of any discernible point.

He leaned into the asinine claim he has done more for African Americans than any president since Lincoln. For good measure, he declined to condemn white supremacy and instead gave the Proud Boys, an ultra violent, ultra right hate group, what amounted to a shout-out: “Stand back and stand by.” Indeed, Trump turned the entire debate into the hottest of hot messes, his constant interruptions, non sequiturs and insults offering superfluous evidence that he is a vulgar cretin with impulse control issues.

But none of it was disappointing. To be disappointed, one must have had expectations of something better. And who can honestly say they expected this 74-year-old three year old to behave like an adult? Trump is what he is.

But Joe Biden is a compassionate and honorable man whose intentions are unimpeachable. That’s why it was such a letdown to hear him address the issue of race and policing with shallow incomprehension.

“The vast majority of police officers are good, decent, honorable, men and women,” he said, and of course, they are. “They risk their lives every day to take care of us,” he said, and of course they do. “But,” he added, “there are some bad apples and when they find them, they have to be sorted out. They have to be held accountable.”

“Bad apples.” Again with the bad apples.

That’s the unfortunate formulation favored by those who insist on framing racism as a personal character flaw like arrogance or greed. What makes Biden’s resort to that tedious cliché especially troublesome is it came after he acknowledged the reality of structural racism. Which suggests while he spoke the words, he doesn’t truly understand them.

For the umpteenth time: the issue is not bad apples. Ultimately, it is not even the police, who are not unique, except insofar as they have the power to arrest and kill, which makes their mistakes more visceral and dramatic. Otherwise, there’s little real difference between policing and politics, health, business, news, or any other institution you care to name. They all reflect the biases of the society they serve.

So it’s not that a given cop is a bad person. It’s that the very definition of policing includes conflating criminality with skin color. As the definition of doctoring includes less aggressive care for black patients. As the definition of reporting includes pathologizing African-American life. And so on.

To be a member in good standing of whatever institution presupposes and encourages this. It is racial bias with profound effect, yet no single author, bias that cloaks itself in “the way things are.” And one doesn’t defeat it by good intentions or being “nice” to Black people. One defeats it by taking purposeful and intentional action to do so. Which requires one first recognize what one is dealing with: not the apple but the tree. And the soil in which it takes root.

Look, Donald Trump has the moral fiber of plankton. He is a fundamentally bad human being. So no one is shocked that he comprehends none of this. But Joe Biden is a good man.

We expect better of him.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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