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Biden Holds 1st In-Person Campaign Event After The Lockdown, Meets Community Leaders


Among those responding to the national outcry over George Floyd's death in Minneapolis is Joe Biden, the Democrat running to replace President Trump this fall. Today Biden went to a church in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., to hear from African American community leaders. It was a gathering of supporters, but as pastor and state Senator Darius Brown said, it was not a rally for the Biden campaign.


DARIUS BROWN: We're here not only to love you but to push you.

CHANG: This was Biden's first in-person campaign event since March. NPR's Scott Detrow attended the gathering, and he joins us now from Wilmington.

Hey, Scott.


CHANG: I mean, so much has changed since Joe Biden attended his last physical in-person campaign event. Can you just give us a sense first of - what did today feel like?

DETROW: I mean, it was hard to believe it's been two and a half months since he was out there. Biden has been really careful about his own health and about advocating for following the rules to keep COVID spread down, so the rules were followed today. There were about 15 people in the front half of the church, spaced out two to a pew. Everyone was wearing masks and kept their distance. This was framed as a listening event. Biden didn't speak for more than 45 minutes into the event. Instead, he sat at the front, listening and taking notes to person after person. It was a group of predominantly African Americans, many of the ministers from the Wilmington area.

CHANG: And we heard from one of the people at the gathering today that they were there to push Biden. What do you think he meant by that - pushing Biden?

DETROW: Yeah, so this was a group of people who not only back Biden for president; they've known him for decades. So that's why it really jumped out to me that a lot of the feedback that Biden got was not positive. Several people said that the Obama administration did not do enough to economically lift African Americans. One person said Biden still needs to explain more about how he would approach criminal justice as president, given his history of writing a lot of tough-on-crime legislation when he was a senator. A lot of people said it's not just Biden. He and every other national leader need to make a point to listen to the young people out protesting because they said a lot of young African Americans just feel hopeless right now. Here's how Devona Williams put it.


DEVONA WILLIAMS: Education doesn't mean anything if we can't go birdwatch, if we can't jog and if we can't go to a convenience store. And what I worry about for our young people is feelings of hopelessness and frustration if they don't feel that they have a hope for their future.

DETROW: And that was a repeated theme from so many people speaking to Biden. It's not just killings by police officers. It's that; it's the fact that COVID-19 has led to more African American deaths than any other demographic and the fact that a lot of people who lost their jobs in this economic crisis are African Americans.

CHANG: I mean, there's so much to respond to there. How did Biden even respond?

DETROW: Yeah. In recent days, he's delivered this forceful message about racism and shown a lot of empathy for the family of George Floyd. Today it ended up being more of his standard stump speech, though he did repeat that he thinks this new focus on police killings and the pandemic - the combination has really opened people's eyes to challenges that black Americans face.


JOE BIDEN: They have come to realize that that portion who never thought themselves as being unattentive or not caring or having a prejudiced bone in their body all of a sudden are waking up and saying, whoa. Whoa. The blinders have been taken off.

DETROW: Biden says that as president, he would prioritize economic development for African Americans, and he would step up federal oversight of local police departments.

CHANG: And real quick, I mean, we've seen Biden venturing out of his home a few times in the past week. Is this a sign that maybe campaigning is getting back to some kind of normal?

DETROW: Looks like it could be that way, but I think it would be in these controlled settings for a while. Biden does - says he expects to deliver some big-picture speeches about what he would do to address all these challenges going forward. So that's probably the next time we'll see him in an environment like this.

CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Scott Detrow.

Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.