Over the past weeks Black Lives Matter movements have risen to media prominence, drawing an incredible number of protestors for city-wide marches across the globe. George Floyd’s death has sparked a truly global campaign against racial injustice, with increasing demand for reform, diversity and accountability within policing. US President Donald Trump has rejected calls for defunding and has not proposed reform, but what does his now confirmed competitor Joe Biden have to offer? Biden, still tarred by his role in the 1994 Crime Bill which increased mass incarceration efforts impacting black and ethnic groups, is staying true to his policy of ‘reform not defund’. His policies carry some merit in attempting to dismantle structural racism, but are the proposals fresh ideas? Not so much. Biden is playing a safe game trying to appeal to the moderate voter but is at risk of satisfying no one.
First, who is Joe Biden? Expect his name to appear on your screens more and more in the upcoming months to November 2020. Joe Biden is the confirmed Democratic Nominee for the US Presidential election. He served as Vice President under the Obama Administration and as a Senator for Delaware. Biden may have had his honeymoon period under Obama’s leadership, but his past has consistently come back to haunt him. Senator Biden authored several ‘tough-on-crime’ measures in the 1980s and 1990s that strengthened penalties for drug-related crimes. In particular, his 1994 Crime Bill has been a continual thorn in his side during his 2008 election attempts. Biden is quick to defend the legislation’s ten-year ban assault weapon sales and domestic violence projections but is less at ease addressing the impact of the legislation on the long-term mass incarceration of largely black Americans. Primary issues included sentencing laws surrounding differentiation in drug misuse and mandatory longer sentencing for Marijuana users. With a greatly increasing public support for Black Lives Matter and the importance of clinching minority votes for his battle against Trump, Biden is defending his ‘reform not defund’ strategy on shaky ground.
Biden has strongly condemned the killing of George Floyd and police brutality, as you expect every Presidential Democratic nominee would. He has been quick to adapt his proposals for crime and justice policies in order to address his past mistakes and reassure the Black community within America. ‘Uncle Joe’ has called for a ban on police chokeholds, a new federal police oversight commission and new standards for when and how the police use force. When compared to Trump’s ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts’, this is a good step forward for rectifying racial injustice. Biden has also pledged to continue the Obama Administration policies of scrutinising what equipment is used by law enforcement, a clear nod to critics of US domestic police agencies and military grade equipment used in policing.
Investment, investment, investment. Biden’s ‘big guns’ come in the form of his long-held belief in community policing. Proposing $300 million in investment for diversifying local enforcement, Biden is on a mission to revive community policing in the US. The nominee has claimed that the ‘100,000’ Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) which became a Clinton administration signature programme was never fully funded. The $300 million investment is meant to ensure that the policing community will reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. Biden states “I don’t support defunding the police, I support conditional federal aid to the police based on whether they meet certain basic standards of decency and honourableness”. The concerns of young democrats and protestors have grown since this announcement, quite rightly questioning what exactly Biden means by ‘honourableness’. Chief Activists such as Johnetta Elzie have argued that “Biden knows it’s not enough. It’s not at all answering the calls of the moment”. ‘Defund the Police’ has taken a broad spectrum of meanings. Some argue for complete abolition, whereas for others the mantra means reforming budgets to invest more in education, social services and community development. Despite some lack of clarity, the movement suggests that the police don’t need any more of the public’s hard-earned money. In Biden’s defence, he has sought to drive more money towards education and social services, arguing that re- budgeting is key in order to address the root causes of crime. This is a peace offering to protestors, in order to reassert his commitment to addressing structural injustice and discrimination. Biden is therefore presenting a mixed approach of appeasement, a well-known political tactic.
Uncle Joe’s plan for reform and investment has some potential. Biden has committed to both police funding needed to tackle a variation of criminal activity, whilst promising further social enterprise funds. His downfall is a simple repeat of old tactics, recycling old initiatives such as COPS with little modification. Such repetition does not tackle the heart of institutional racism at its core. The nominee is trying to shake his old image and mistakes with the 1994 crime bill and satisfy moderate voters. He is targeting republicans who do not want to see Trump re-elected, whilst trying to engage with young voters and Black Americans who have constituted the largest proportion of protestors.
The middle ground is seemingly safe, but ultimately Biden is risking satisfying no one. Biden needs clarity within his structural reform in order to capture the confidence of young democratic supporters. Politics is a war of popularity in which no specifics should be spared.
Image - Flickr (Phil Roeder)