When President-elect Joe Biden delivers his inauguration speech Wednesday, civil rights leaders are hoping for more than just promises, but a plan of action for racial healing.
Biden will be entering the presidency at a time when the nation is divided after White rioters stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6 in their refusal to accept President Donald Trump’s loss, and Black Lives Matter protests last summer sparked a national reckoning on racism.
The frustrations on both sides of this political divide have been exacerbated by a Covid-19 pandemic that has killed people of color at higher rates and Trump’s attempts to undermine the integrity of the election.
Now Black leaders say they are counting on Biden to unify the country and enact policies that address the disparities Black people face in housing, education, jobs, healthcare and voter suppression.
They also want Biden to undo the harm caused by the Trump with his offensive rhetoric toward people of color and refusal to address police brutality in the Black community.
“Racial equity requires more than individuals in positions. It requires a set of clear outcomes,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson told CNN. Biden “has an obligation to reverse what happened in the last for years. And it’s very doable.”
Johnson said he hopes that in Biden’s inauguration speech he talks about his plan for addressing racial inequity in the country.
Biden, he said, needs to end economic insecurity in communities of color and the “predatory” police treatment of Black people, ensure equitable Covid-19 vaccine access and remove social media platforms that spread hate.
According to a CNN poll, 16% of Democrats believe that racial injustice is the most important problem facing the country right now while 65% say it is the coronavirus.
Conversely, only 1% of Republicans say racial injustice is most important issue with 32% choosing political divisions, 30% the economy, and 25% coronavirus.
The inauguration events this year have been themed “America United.” Biden’s speech is set to last about 20 minutes.
Some civil rights leaders say they are confident Biden will keep every promise he makes during his speech Wednesday.
Richard “Mouse” Smith, president of the Delaware NAACP and a lifelong friend of Biden’s, said Biden earned the trust of Black people in Wilmington, Delaware, when he was a New Castle County Councilor in the early 1970s who wasn’t afraid to go into the community and discuss their concerns.
“He brought love and respect and care for our community,” Smith said.
Wilmington’s Black community was pleased with Biden’s controversial Crime Bill of 1994 because it helped rid their neighborhoods of drugs, crime and slum houses, Smith said.
Smith said he believes Biden will lead the policy change that Black people need for equal education, jobs, environmental justice and housing equity.
“He has the ability to heal the country if people want the country to be healed,” Smith said. “He can be a game changer and put evil and racism down.”
Biden’s inauguration is taking place two days after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday which honors the legacy of the civil rights icon who died in 1968.
King’s son, Martin Luther King III, told CNN on Monday that he believes Biden and his administration should lead the country in bringing people together, address the Covid-19 pandemic, police brutality and misconduct as well as climate change.
“We’re going to see a new air brought in,” he said. “We will do better, we are much better than the behavior that we’ve seen exhibited over the last few days.”
Other Black activists also demanded a concrete plan from Biden.
The Rev. Michael W. Waters, a civil rights activist and author of “Something in the Water: A 21st Century Civil Rights Odyssey,” called for a “purposeful redirecting of resources” to uplift marginalized and oppressed communities.
“Millions of people still voted for Donald Trump and real threats exist to our vision of democracy,” Waters said. “Biden and Harris must embrace a radical platform of equity to redeem the soul of this nation.”