Middle: President Joe Biden delivers the 2023 State of the Union Address, while Vice President Kamala Harris (left) and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., (right) listen. During his speech, Biden discusses gun reform in light of the many mass shootings in America and the death of Tyre Nichols, who was killed by police officers, taxes imposed on the lower class and upper class and the plans to increase infrastructure throughout the nation. (AP Photo)

By Deborah Bailey,
Contributing Editor

In the first fully in-person State of the Union address since the COVID-19 epidemic began, President Joe Biden didn’t mince words or shy away from hard topics. Biden placed the issue of police reform and alternatives to police intervention squarely on the American agenda during his Feb. 7 address. 

Biden’s introduction of the RowVaughn Wells, Tyre Nichols’s mother, and her husband, Rodney Wells, Nichols’s stepfather, met a standing ovation by the entire audience.

Nichols died of his injuries on Jan. 10, after being beaten three days earlier by Memphis police officers during a traffic stop that spiraled into a deadly interaction.

Biden called on rogue police officers to be held accountable. 

“I know most cops are good, honorable, decent people. They risk their lives every time they put that shield on. But what happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often,” Biden said.  

While not naming specific legislation he intended to push, Biden mentioned the executive order he issued in May 2022, banning federal officials from using chokeholds in most cases and limiting the use of no-knock warrants.  

This was his response after the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, approved by the House of Representatives, but stalled in the U.S. Senate.  

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris after Nichols’ death, imploring Biden to discuss policing in his State of the Union remarks and commit to supporting national legislation.  

Biden did not mention the need for police reform in passing. He squarely used the opportunity to speak to the estimated 40 million Americans watching about “the talk” that most Black and Brown parents and guardians have with their children and adolescents regarding how to behave and survive a police encounter.

“Most of us here have never had to have the talk with our children that so many Black and Brown families have had with their children: ‘If a police officer pulls you over, turn your interior lights on right away. Don’t reach for your license. Keep your hands on the steering wheel,’” he said, repeating the phrases that have been passed down from one Black generation to another for decades.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) wore black lapel pins with the number “1870” representing the year of the first documented incident of an unarmed free Black person being killed by a police officer in the United States. 

CBC member Bonnie Watson, who also serves as chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Policing, Constitution, and Equality Task Force, issued the pins and called on Congress to get past both of the issues that stalled the George Floyd Policing Act in 2021.  

“We must end the filibuster, pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and the Mental Health Justice Act, and put a stop to this devastation,” Watson echoed.