Biden must be ‘healer in chief’ as Tyre Nichols’ parents are invited to SOTU address

“[President Joe] Biden has to assume the role of healer in chief by reminding the nation that these acts of violence are not who we are,” former presidential speech writer Terry Edmonds tells theGrio.

President Joe Biden will have to assert himself as “healer in chief” during his State of the Union address on Feb. 7 in the midst of outcry over the deadly Memphis police beating of Tyre Nichols and countless mass shootings

“Biden has to assume the role of healer-in-chief by reminding the nation that these acts of violence are not who we are,” Terry Edmonds, the first Black presidential head speechwriter for then-President Bill Clinton, tells theGrio. “Who we are is best exemplified by the grace of the parents of Tyre Nichols and Brandon Tsay, the hero of the Monterey shooter.”

Left to right: President Joe Biden and RowVaughn Wells, the mother of Tyre Nichols, who was fatally beat by Memphis police. (Photo: Getty Images)

The parents of Nichols, RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, were recently invited to President Biden’s State of the Union address on Capitol Hill by Congressional Black Caucus chair, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford after he spoke with the grieving parents to extend his condolences on behalf of the CBC.

Horsford, who also requested a meeting this week with Biden at the White House, told theGrio, “What I want from the president is what the family has conveyed, and that is for us to take action on the culture of policing in this country.”

After the death of the 29-year-old Nichols, there have been renewed calls for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to be passed in the new session of Congress after previous negotiations between Democrats and Republicans failed in 2021.

But as Congressional leaders determine the path forward for a police reform bill on the federal level, Congressman Horsford said President Biden must “make this issue the priority it should be.” Horsford added, “there is a real anxious feeling throughout America about their safety.”

Demonstrators gather and march through downtown protesting the death of Tyre Nichols on January 28, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee. Tyre Nichols died on January 10th, three days after being severely beaten by five Memphis police officers. Yesterday, the city of Memphis released to the public video footage of Nichols’ confrontation with the police. Today, it was reported that the Memphis police department disbanded the special operations unit to which the officers were attached. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Other members of the CBC are also sounding the alarm about the issue of policing in America. The most recent past chair of the CBC, U.S. Congresswoman Joyce Beatty of Ohio, said, “We cannot continue to cope with these devastatingly horrific deaths by law enforcement.” 

U.S. Congressman Maxwell Frost, the youngest elected Congressperson in Washington, told theGrio that he’d like President Biden to “really dig into” how police bias and brutality is a systematic issue in police departments across the country. 

“We hear a lot, not just from the president, but from a lot of folks talk about their support of law enforcement. Law enforcement plays a large role in public safety right now. I get that. I understand that,” said Frost. “But I think when a family sees a video of their child being beaten to death, I think what they want to hear, and what a lot of Black Americans want to hear is what the solutions are, not the normal talking points.”

Many Black Americans will be tuning into Biden’s address next week hoping to hear a message about the instances of police violence that often end tragically like that of Tyre Nichols, but also issues like voting rights restrictions, which experts have said disproportionately impact Black communities and other communities of color.

FILE – President Joe Biden speaks as he announces Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Cross Hall of the White House, Feb. 25, 2022, in Washington. Biden will deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, March 1. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

When asked how viewers could gauge whether Biden strikes the right cord with the Black community during his speech, Edmonds pointed to the potential reaction from members of the CBC. “I guess, you know, when the Congressional Black Caucus stands up and implodes,” he said. Still, he cautioned, “I think it’s going to be a tough road to hold because there is some disappointment with his failure to produce for Black America … he’s got to really lean in on that.” 

Edmonds notably wrote State of the Union speeches for Clinton amid the president’s scandalous affair with his then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky. While not a similar scandal, President Biden will aim to deliver a message of optimism as his White House simultaneously fights off a scandal involving his possession of classified documents and an open Department of Justice investigation. 

“It’s always difficult when a president is facing these kinds of problems as he’s about to address [the nation],” said Edmonds, who doesn’t expect the president to mention the documents issue in his speech. 

“I think he’s going to just highlight the fact that he has accomplished a lot for the American people, including the infrastructure law, the Inflation Reduction Act, the [American] Rescue Plan, and so forth.”

TheGrio’s Gerren Keith Gaynor contributed to this report.

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