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Biden says police who “violate“ trust should be held accountable in State of the Union


President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday renewed his call for police reform, saying officers who “violate the public trust” should be held accountable and law enforcement officials should be given the necessary training and be held to higher standards.

“I know most cops and their families are good, decent, honorable people … And they risk their lives every time they put that shield on,” Biden said in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.

“But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often. We have to do better,” Biden added, referring to the death of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man who was fatally beaten by Memphis police officers in January.

“Public safety depends on public trust but too often that trust is violated …. 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,” Biden said. “When police officers or police departments violate the public trust, they must be held accountable.”

He also said there was need for more first responders and other professionals to address growing mental health and substance abuse challenges.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus had called on Biden to use his State of the Union speech to push for police reform in the wake of Nichols’ death.

“It may have been Tyre Nichols yesterday, but it could be any one of us today and tomorrow,” the caucus’ chairman, U.S. Representative Steven Horsford, a Democrat, said in a press conference on Tuesday ahead of Biden’s address.

Nichols repeatedly cried, “Mom! Mom!” as the five Memphis police officers charged with the Black motorist’s murder pummeled him with kicks, punches and baton blows after a Jan. 7 traffic stop, video released by the city had shown.

Seven more Memphis police officers were expected to face formal disciplinary charges this week in connection with Nichols’ death, the city attorney said on Tuesday.

Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, and his stepfather, Rodney Wells, attended Biden’s speech on Tuesday after they accepted an invite from Horsford.

Nichols’ death marked the latest high-profile instance of police officers accused of using excessive force in the deaths of Black people and other minorities in recent years.

Biden had spoken to Nichols’ parents after the video of his beating was released to express condolences.