Biden tells NAACP dinner: Detroit is 'coming back'

Staff and wire reports

Detroit — Vice President Joe Biden said America has "a lot of soul searching to do" as it comes to grips with souring police and community relations in recent months that have resulted in the deaths of several African-American men.

In delivering remarks at the 60th annual Fight for Freedom Dinner, Biden spoke about problems funding community policing programs, which have led to issues like those that have erupted in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

He said "cops have a right to go home to see their family" at the end of their shifts and, in turn, the people in the communities police serve have a right to be treated with "dignity and respect."

"The only way that will happen is if we see each other, and that only happens when we get to know one another," said Biden on Sunday at the largest fundraiser for the Detroit chapter of the NAACP. "The community has to do a lot of soul searching."

During his nearly 45-minute speech at Cobo Center, Biden also lauded the city's efforts to remake itself following the nation's largest municipal bankruptcy, saying it was on the road to economic recovery.

"Buses are moving ... the streets are plowed, the trash is picked up," he told the crowd. "People ... are back to work. You are coming back. You are coming back."

Detroit exited bankruptcy in December, eliminating or restructuring $7 billion in debt. Biden has emerged as one of Detroit's biggest advocates, immersing himself in Detroit issues and helping secure federal grants.

He has spent so much time in Detroit that Duggan has called him "Detroit's very best friend." It could benefit him if he decides to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Biden also praised NAACP contributions as a civil rights organization, saying, "It's not possible to have civil rights without economic rights."

Biden said the jobless rate among blacks remains too high while "wealth" has "plummeted" and called on the nation's leaders to provide access to a good education for all students, including black and Hispanic children.

The Voting Rights Act is under assault, and several states now have legislation making it harder to cast votes, he told the gathering.

"We crossed that bridge once. We cannot go back," he said in reference to Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965.

Biden's remarks followed those of the head of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, who demanded elected leaders in Washington fix the problem of jobs, education and training in black communities.

The Rev. Wendell Anthony referred to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, all involving police.

Anthony said many people aren't acknowledging a "serious issue in our nation" between blacks and police.

The theme of this year's dinner was "Celebrating Freedom: Measured by Practice, Treasured by Sacrifice." It is is the largest fundraiser of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP.

Also at the dinner Sunday, U.S. Rep John Conyers, D-Detroit, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

"John Conyers has been on the case for race, John Conyers has been on the case for women, John Conyers has been on the case for workers, John Conyers has been on the case for South Africa, John Conyers has been on the case for civil rights," said Anthony in presenting Conyers with the award.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com