Biden works to balance civil rights and criminal justice

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President Joe Biden gives a coin to Logan Evans, son of late U.S. Capitol Police officer William "Billy" Evans, during a memorial service as Evans lies in honor in the Rotunda at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, April 13, 2021 in Washington. (Drew Angerer/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – On one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, he mourned with the family of a fallen police officer. On the other, he pledged to help end the epidemic of Black men being killed by police.

Over the course of a few hours Tuesday, President Joe Biden’s difficult balancing act on policing was put on vivid display. He is urgently trying to navigate criminal justice and civil rights while the White House nervously watches unrest in Minnesota as the trial of the white police officer accused of killing George Floyd winds down.

The test for Biden comes as the nation is on edge awaiting the conclusion of the trial of Derek Chauvin, who prosecutors said killed Floyd, a Black man, last year by placing a knee on his neck for about nine minutes. Tensions have only been heightened by the shooting death this week of another Black man in Minnesota, Daunte Wright, who was killed after police said a white officer accidentally reached for her handgun instead of a taser.

Biden has pledged to help combat racism in policing, helping African Americans who supported him in large numbers last year in the wake of protests that swept the nation after Floyd’s death and restarted a national conversation about race. But he also has long projected himself as an ally of police, including Tuesday, when he traveled to the U.S. Capitol to pay respects to William Evans, a Capitol police officer who was killed when a suspect rammed him with his car outside the citadel of democracy.

“I didn’t know Billy, but I knew Billy,” Biden said at a tearful memorial under the soaring rotunda. “I grew up with Billys in Claymont and Scranton, Pennsylvania. Billy was always the kid that you know if you got in a fight and you’re outnumbered three to one, he’d still jump in, knowing you’d both get beaten.”

Two of Evans’ children clutched stuffed animals as the gazed at their father’s flag-draped coffin, one wearing his father’s police uniform hat. At one moment, a toy replica of the U.S. Capitol was dropped; Biden reached over to pick it up.

His own life defined by grief after having buried two children and his first wife, Biden said his prayer for the Evans family is for “that moment when a smile comes before the tear.” And he saluted the Capitol police force, still reeling from the Jan. 6 insurrection by supporters of President Donald Trump, where one officer died and scores more were injured.

“Never has there been more strain … and responsibility been placed on the shoulders of Capitol Police,” the president said. “And yet, you hear it, you see it, you watch them, and you watch them do their duty with pure courage and not complain.”