know about Biden’s ‘crime prevention’ plan repeats old mistakes in policing
(Reuters) – The White House’s recently announced “fund the police” measure confirms that President Joe Biden’s administration will not pursue the kind of transformative criminal justice reform that many voters supported during his candidacy, despite his earlier rhetoric.
The proposal is part of the administration crime prevention plan submitted July 21 as part of his 2023 budget request to Congress.
First, the good news.
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The crime prevention proposal, which the White House calls a Safer America Plan, requests $15 billion to help local governments identify emergencies that could be better handled if the response includes services other than law enforcement, including crises mental health, a $5 billion investment in community violence intervention programs and a $3 billion investment to eliminate court backlogs.
Broadly speaking, those proposals are in line with measures put forth by racial and criminal justice advocates and many Democratic lawmakers. The grants could very well incentivize cash-strapped jurisdictions to implement pilot programs for violence intervention and other proven alternatives to surveillance that they cannot explore without the additional money.
But the centerpiece of Biden’s Safer America plan is the fund that police measure: a nearly $13 billion request to hire 100,000 police officers across the country over the next five years.
That provision is fundamentally a retaliation for the prevailing heavy-handed criminal justice approach to crime that has failed and contributed significantly to mass incarceration. the massive crime bill 1994 — which then-Senator Biden called the “Biden crime bill” — is widely seen as a key driver of mass incarceration. It also included a provision for 100,000 new officers.
Civil rights groups criticized the latest proposal in comments after the White House announcement.
We are disappointed that the plan “embraces the flawed concept that we can achieve safety by increasing the police presence in our communities,” NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President and CEO Janai Nelson said July 22. .
The ACLU described the plan as a proposed investment “in two competing approaches” to public safety: a call “for increased criminalization and incarceration,” along with investments in community services.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
In a sense, the proposal formalizes the mixed messages the administration has given on police reform during the Biden presidency.
What is clear is that the White House and most of the Democratic Party intend to carry the message about policing Biden’s March State of the Union address to the November 8 midterms, apparently due to a calculation. politician they must defend against the Conservatives. ‘ Accusations that Democrats are lenient on crime.
“The answer is not to defund the police,” Biden said in March. “It is financing the police. Finance them. Finance them.”
That’s a stark contrast to candidate Biden, who ran on a platform that represented a drastic change in the federal government’s approach to policing and race, at least rhetorically, as I noted in a previous column.
He has publicly said that he was inspired to run for president over the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017. And his platform featured racial justice more substantively and prominently than probably any previous president.
In June 2020, Biden wrote a opinion piece arguing that “we need to eradicate systemic racism” and describing his race against President Donald Trump as a “battle for the soul of this nation” (the Trump administration rejected the notion of systemic racism altogether). The federal government should subsidize local police, Biden wrote, but the money should be conditional on whether the departments have implemented “meaningful reforms.”
And, at the time, Biden proposed a smaller $300 million investment in the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which runs the police-hiring program the White House most recently requested. nearly $13 billion.
Some of the officials Biden selected for his administration have also taken fairly progressive positions on criminal justice issues, including Kristen Clarke, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, who wrote an op-ed in June 2021 titled “ Defund the police, but be strategic.” .” Melanca Clark, a member of Biden’s transition team and former COPS chief of staff, told NPR in June that the moment presented an opportunity to reinvent police departments.
That background, and Biden’s adoption of much of the language of activists and reformers, is likely why many advocates were hopeful of Biden’s criminal justice platform.
By now, though, it’s clear the administration has turned a corner and probably doesn’t plan to look back.
The White House scrapped at least one of its major criminal justice initiatives just months into Biden’s term, opting to forgo a campaign promise to create a national police oversight commission in favor of pushing legislation, Reuters reported. in April 2021. And his initial $300 million proposal to hire police also drew criticism from racial justice groups.
The president and Democratic lawmakers pledged to pass major racial justice and policing legislation after George Floyd was killed in Minnesota police custody in June 2020, but their efforts were thwarted by Republican lawmakers.
After the legislative push failed, Biden issued a largely ineffective executive order on surveillance.
To be sure, Biden has consistently opposed the “defund” movement, a push to reinvent police departments and divert their funding to other social services.
He made it clear when he was still a presidential candidate: “I don’t support defunding the police,” Biden said in a June 2020 interview with CBS.
And Biden is a decades-long ally of law enforcement groups.
He played a key role in passing the Comprehensive Control Act of 1984, which allowed for civil asset forfeiture, and the Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, which created the racist disparity in crack cocaine sentencing to dust and strengthened the mandatory minimums. He also wrote the 1994 crime bill, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which encouraged states to build prisons, put police in schools and pass truth-in-sentencing laws, according to a report. published in July by the Brennan Center for Justice. at New York University School of Law.
Now, the White House is signaling to conservative and Democratic lawmakers that increased criminalization and incarceration is a critical component of judicial reform: that some money can be diverted from police departments, but it must also be injected more money. It is also a clear signal to activists and voters about the president’s previous promises.
Tragically, the memory of Floyd’s horrific murder is fading, along with the political willpower to significantly change the old dynamic that ultimately led to his death.
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