Following the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, Harvard Divinity School philosophy professor Cornel West appeared Tuesday evening on the Mehdi Hasan Show and accused President Joe Biden of having “blood on his hands” for past statements as well as being “one of the architects of mass incarceration.”
Asked whether the verdict regarding George Floyd’s death is “as historic as the incident that surrounded it,” West replied it depended on what follows.
“We got to see what kind of follow-through we have,” he said. “The very fact that they have a public lynching the whole world sees and you send the policeman to jail, you know that’s not worthy of breakdancing, brother. That’s one plus one equals two.”
WATCH: Derek Chauvin committed “a public lynching” and will pay a price, says @CornelWest. While it’s a welcome moment for George Floyd’s family, West tells @mehdirhasan, “That's not worthy of breakdancing, brother. That's one plus one equals two.” pic.twitter.com/kB53IVj1tW
— The Mehdi Hasan Show (@MehdiHasanShow) April 21, 2021
Addressing President Biden, West stated that despite “wonderful” accomplishments, the president still has “blood on his hands.”
“[Biden’s] done some wonderful things in terms of relief deals and infrastructure and Yemen and Afghanistan, but you know he’s got blood on his hands when it comes to being one of the architects of mass incarceration,” he said.
“It was his rhetoric November 18th, 1994, when he said people who look like me, people who look like George Floyd, he said ‘he’s a predator’; ‘they’re beyond, beyond reform’; ‘throw them in jail and throw the keys away,’” he continued.
“Well, you see that cheapened black life,” he said. “That has contributed to the attitude of some of the police.”
West added that Biden can still change, just as others have.
“He can change, that’s true,” he said. “[Former President] LBJ [Lyndon Baines Johnson] changed. White supremacists from Jim Crow Texas became a major force for good against white supremacy. I hope brother Biden does what LBJ did.”
Noting Biden’s past role as vice president under President Barack Obama, West claimed the current situation is different.
“Because when he’s VP under a black president, black Attorney General, and black [Secretary of] Homeland Security, black folks still got shot,” he said. “We still got shot down. Not one policeman went to jail, for the most part. So we’ll have to see if he follows through.”
West went on to describe the “deeper” challenge of tackling “the system.”
“The deeper challenge though, brother, is whether the system itself can be reformed,” he said.
“If it’s shot through with so much white supremacist rot, then that means you might have an isolated incident in which a policeman goes to jail. But for the most part, it is chronic. It is systemic,” he added.
Earlier on Tuesday, both President Biden as well as Vice President Kamala Harris voiced similar concerns about the country’s need for an extensive overhaul.
“It was a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism … a stain on our nation’s soul,” Biden said in a speech addressing the nation following the verdict.
“This takes acknowledging and confronting head-on — systemic racism and the racial disparities that exist in policing and the justice system more broadly,” he added.
Vice President Harris recalled the “long history of systemic racism” in America, where black people were treated “throughout the course of our history as less than human.”
Last week, speaking on CNN’s Tonight, West declared that American police “have been out of control since the slave patrol.”
“There’s thousands of black people who have been shot down by the police, male and female, children and grandchildren,” he added.
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.