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As strife flares, unity is needed

Since Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin snuffed out

Since Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin snuffed out George Floyd's life last week, President Donald Trump has commandeered the stage with incendiary language that has deepened divisions and inflamed an already volatile situation. On Tuesday, his likely opponent in November's election, former Vice President Joe Biden, offered a compelling contrast. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

In the national meltdown that has followed the killing of George Floyd, it's the contrasts that illuminate.

You can see it in the protesters, the ones who march peacefully by day chanting messages that decry racial injustice and discriminatory policing, and the ones who commit mayhem at night with their own mindless message of nihilistic chaos. You can see it in the police, the ones who take a knee in solidarity with demonstrators appalled by Floyd's death, and the ones who continue to wield force disproportionate to the scene they encounter.

And now you can see it in our national political leaders.

Since Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin snuffed out Floyd's life last week, President Donald Trump has commandeered the stage with incendiary language that has deepened divisions and inflamed an already volatile situation. On Tuesday, his likely opponent in November's election, former Vice President Joe Biden, offered a compelling contrast.

It wasn't just that Biden criticized Trump for the violent removal of peaceful protesters from a park near the White House just so the president could pose for photos with a Bible at a historic church. That was patently deplorable. But Biden also expressed a deep empathy of which Trump seems incapable — empathy for Floyd, his family and millions of black Americans and fellow citizens of all colors who were profoundly disturbed by Floyd's death and the place it assumed in the long litany of black men unfairly killed by police.

Where Trump boasted of setting vicious dogs on marchers and "dominating" streets filled with "lowlifes and losers," Biden spoke of a nation in pain that must be careful to not let its rage consume it. Where Trump taunted governors as being weak and threatened to use the nation's military against its own citizenry, Biden focused on issues fueling the protests, not only Floyd's death but the history it evoked and the disproportionate suffering blacks have endured from the coronavirus pandemic. Where Trump drove his wedge ever deeper, Biden said, "I won't traffic in fear and division." 

Trump is right that looting and burning stores is despicable — Biden agrees with him about that — and New York City police clearly must do a better job of protecting residents and business owners than they did Monday night, when unchecked vandals rampaged in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. If Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to exercise inept leadership and the paroxysms of violence continue, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will have no choice but to intervene.

Contrasts are evident locally, too — like in Huntington, where young people marching peacefully on New York Avenue only to be upbraided in a live Facebook post by a restaurateur as "punks" and "little animals, savages." 

Put aside partisan filters and it remains clear that both police injustice and riots in response to that are repugnant. Attempts to understand and work together have a chance to get us to a better place. Words of condemnation do not.

— The editorial board

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