20 May 2024, 09:31

Biden faces silent Gaza protest at Martin Luther King Jr's college

ATLANTA, May 20, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - US President Joe Biden said Sunday he
heard the voice of Gaza war protesters as some students turned their backs on
his graduation ceremony speech at the former university of civil rights icon
Martin Luther King Jr.

A small number of graduates carried out the silent protest, with some holding
Palestinian flags and one holding up a fist as Biden spoke at Morehouse
College, a historically Black university in Atlanta, Georgia.

Others wore keffiyeh scarves over their gowns in a sign of solidarity with
the protests that have roiled campuses across the United States over Israel's
offensive on the Gaza Strip after the Hamas October 7 attacks.

"I support peaceful, non-violent protest. Your voices should be heard, and I
promise you I hear them," said Biden, who wore a maroon and black gown in the
colors of the all-male university.

The speech was Biden's most direct encounter with American students since the
Gaza protests engulfed campuses nationwide, causing him political troubles
with an election rematch against Donald Trump just over six months away.

"This is one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world. There's
nothing easy about it," added Biden about Gaza.

"I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family, but most
of all, I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well."

He did not elaborate, but First Lady Jill Biden reportedly urged the
president in April to "stop it now" as the toll of Palestinian civilians
mounted from Israel's offensive.

A number of Morehouse students had called for Biden's speech to be canceled
over the Gaza war but the ceremony went ahead without disruption.

Biden told the students that Gaza was enduring a "humanitarian crisis" and
that he was working for an "immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting, bring
the hostages home."

The 81-year-old Democrat added he was pushing for a "lasting, durable peace"
in the wider Middle East that would lead to an independent Palestinian state,
which he called the "only solution."

- 'Hard issues' -

The president's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is in Saudi Arabia
and Israel this weekend trying to push for a ceasefire as well as a
normalization deal between the two countries.

Biden had earlier applauded as Morehouse College's valedictorian, DeAngelo
Jeremiah Fletcher, also called for an immediate ceasefire in his own speech.

"It is important to recognize both sides have suffered heavy casualties since
October 7," said Fletcher.

Morehouse president David Thomas -- who had earlier this week threatened to
shut down the ceremony if it was disrupted -- told Biden after the speech
that "you've been listening."

"You spoke to the hard issues confronting our nation and the world at this
moment," said Thomas.

The speech at the alma mater of slain rights hero King was part of a series
of Biden events this week aimed at winning over Black voters, amid polls
showing that their support for him is flagging.

Biden did not specifically mention his rival Trump but leaned heavily into
themes of democracy and racism that he has previously invoked while talking
about the twice-impeached Republican former president.

"This is what we're up against -- extremist forces aligned against the
meaning and message of Morehouse," said Biden.

His outreach efforts to Black voters and Gaza protesters were two sides of
the same coin as Biden tries to shore up support among the coalition that
helped him beat Trump in 2020.

Later Sunday Biden traveled to Detroit in the key swing state of Michigan
where he visited a cafe owned by two former NBA players, brothers Joe and
Jordan Crawford, before attending a major civil rights group gathering.

Addressing thousands of people at the NAACP event, Biden said strong support
from African-American voters in the close 2020 election meant they are "the
only reason I'm standing here as the president."

"And you're the reason Donald Trump's going to be a loser again," he said.

Biden touted his choice of the nation's first Black vice president, Kamala
Harris, the record number of Black judge appointments under his presidency,
and his appointment of the Supreme Court's first Black female justice.

"The threat that Trump poses in his second term is greater than in his
first," Biden warned. "He's running for revenge."

A New York Times/Siena poll last week showed that, in addition to trailing
Trump in several key battleground states, Biden has been losing ground with
African Americans.



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