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Biden adds stop to North Carolina trip to visit with families of fallen law enforcement officers

By COLLEEN LONG and STEVE PEOPLES, COLLEEN LONG and STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
Published: May 2, 2024, 8:23am

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden, who heads to Wilmington, North Carolina Thursday to talk about the economy, is detouring to Charlotte to meet with the families of law enforcement officers shot to death on the job — just a week after he sat down with the grieving relatives of two cops killed in Upstate New York.

The visit is expected to take place with little fanfare behind closed doors, as the White House aims to respect the privacy of grieving families and avoid the appearance of using their grief for political purposes. The meeting was expected at the airport, an option meant to be the least taxing for local law enforcement still reeling from the deaths but who would have a hand in securing the president’s trip.

Once again, Biden will seek to be an empathetic leader for a community reeling from gun violence, while also calling for stricter rules around firearms and better funding for law enforcement on the front lines.

Four officers were killed earlier this week in North Carolina, when a wanted man opened fire on a joint agency task force that had come to arrest him on a warrant for possession of a firearm as an ex-felon, and fleeing to elude capture. They were: Sam Poloche and William Elliott of the North Carolina Department of Adult Corrections; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Officer Joshua Eyer; and Deputy U.S. Marshal Thomas Weeks.

Four other officers were wounded in the gunfire; the suspect was killed. An AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a 40-caliber handgun and ammunition were found at the scene.

An AR-15 is among the weapons most often used in mass shootings, and it’s the type of gun Biden is talking about when he says the U.S. should ban “ assault weapons.” Congress passed the most comprehensive gun safety legislation in decades in 2022, after a horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. But it didn’t go far enough, Biden often says.

And as he campaigns for the 2024 election, Biden has made curbing gun violence a major campaign platform, elusive to Democrats even during the Obama era, as he fends off attacks from Republican challenger Donald Trump that he is soft on crime and anti-police.

Biden said this week in a statement after the North Carolina killings that the U.S. must “do more to protect our law enforcement officers. That means funding them — so they have the resources they need to do their jobs and keep us safe.”

The violence came just about two weeks after another fatal shooting of law enforcement officers in Syracuse, New York; Lieutenant Michael Hoosock and Officer Michael Jensen were killed while looking for a driver who fled a traffic stop. After his speech, Biden met with relatives of both of the officers’ families.

Biden had already been scheduled to come to Syracuse to celebrate Micron Technology’s plans to build a campus of computer chip factories, but the local police union said officers were still coming to terms with the deaths and weren’t happy with the president’s trip and had hoped he would delay.

On Thursday, Biden will also travel on to Wilmington, where he’s announcing his administration is providing states an additional $3 billion to replace lead pipes across the country, building on $5.8 billion in federal funds for water infrastructure projects around the country announced in February.

Money for the pipe replacement comes from one of the administration’s key legislative victories, the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law that Biden signed in 2021. The infrastructure law includes over $50 billion to upgrade America’s water infrastructure.

“It’s far past time to get the lead out once and for all,″ Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan said Wednesday. “This is a matter of public health, a matter of environmental justice, and a matter of basic human rights.”

Biden and his administration are committed to using all tools available “to achieve a 100% lead-free future for all Americans,” Regan told reporters at a White House briefing. “Every single day we are one step closer to a future where no child has to suffer from the lasting effects of lead exposure.″

The new round of funding will help pay for projects nationwide as Biden seeks to replace all lead pipes in the country.

EPA estimates that North Carolina has 370,000 lead pipes, and $76 million will go to replace them statewide. Biden also will meet with faculty and students at a Wilmington school that replaced a water fountain with high levels of lead with funding from the law.

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Matthew Daly and Josh Boak contributed to this story.

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