(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden said America needs to “finish the job on police reform” during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
“I know most cops and their families are good, decent, honorable people. The vast majority. They risk their lives every time they put on that shield,” he said during one of the more powerful moments of the night. “But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better.”
The anticipated comments come nearly a month after 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was beaten during a confrontation with Memphis police officers after he fled a traffic stop on Jan. 7. He died three days later. Five officers involved in the beating were fired and have been charged with second-degree murder in connection with Nichols’ death.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, and stepfather, Rodney Wells, were in the audience during Biden’s remarks, seated in the first lady’s box. They received a standing ovation when the president mentioned them by name.
“There’s no words to describe the heartbreak or grief of losing a child. But imagine, imagine if you lost that child at the hands of the law,” Biden said while addressing Nichols’ parents. “Imagine having to worry whether your son or daughter came home from walking down the street, playing in the park, or just driving in the car.”
“Most of us in here have never had to have the talk, the talk that brown and Black parents have had to have with their children,” he continued, while noting he hasn’t had to have that talk with his own children. “Imagine having to worry like that every day in America.”
Pres. Biden introduces the parents of Tyre Nichols during State of the Union address: “Public safety depends on public trust — as all of us know — but too often that trust is violated.”#SOTU
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He also called on getting law enforcement “the training they need,” as well as increasing resources to reduce violent crime and gun crime, community intervention programs and investments in housing, education and job training.
“All this can help prevent violence in the first place,” said Biden, who added that officers or departments must be held accountable when they “violate the public’s trust.”
Biden said that when he asked RowVaughn Wells how she found the courage to speak out, he said she said, “Her son ‘was a beautiful soul and something good will come from this.'”
“Let’s commit ourselves to make the words of Tyler’s [sic] mom true — something good must come from this. Something good,” he said.
“All of us in this chamber, we need to rise to this moment,” Biden said. “We can’t turn away. Let’s do what we know in our hearts, what we need to do. Let’s come together to finish the job on police reform. Do something.”
During Nichols’ funeral last week, RowVaughn Wells tearfully called for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to be passed.
“We need to take some action because there should be no other child that should suffer the way my son [did] and all the other parents here who’ve lost their children,” RowVaughn Wells said. “We need to get that bill passed because if we don’t, that blood — the next child that dies — that blood is going to be on their hands.”
The bill, which would’ve sought to address racial profiling and the use of deadly force, was passed by the Democrat-controlled House in 2021 but stalled in the Senate over the issue of qualified immunity for officers.
Vice President Kamala Harris, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Ben Crump, an attorney for Nichols’ family, all pushed for lawmakers to revive talks on the legislation, which was crafted in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“We demand that Congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” Harris said at Nichols’ funeral. “Joe Biden will sign it. We should not delay, and we shall not be denied. It is nonnegotiable.”
Calls for police reform were on display during Biden’s second State of the Union address.
The families of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Tamir Rice — who were all killed by police officers — were invited by the Congressional Black Caucus to attend the address.
Some Democrats also wore black pins with the year 1870 bolded in white, referring to the first known instance of a police officer killing an unarmed, free Black person in the U.S., according to lawmakers.
ABC News’ Alexandra Hutzler contributed to this report.
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