Please don’t let Joe Biden do this to Black people—again

OPINION: President Biden’s recently revealed “Safer America” plan could help the Democratic Party keep control of Congress. But at what expense?

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(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) ()
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

When President Joe Biden began promoting his plan to make America safe again, it seemed like a good idea. 

“[Americans] want to feel a sense of security. That’s what my crime plan is all about,” he told a crowd in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., on Tuesday. “I call it the Safer America’s Plan. And both your members of Congress voted for it. It’s based on a simple notion. When it comes to public safety to this nation, the answer is not ‘defund the police.’ It’s fund the police.”

“Frontliners”—Democrats fighting for re-election in moderate districts—praised the president’s proposal as a brilliant way to contradict the GOP’s demonization of the “defund the police” movement. Others saw it as a way to decrease the recent rise in crime across America. Progressives touted the plan’s provisions that focused on housing, the gun crisis and police training. Black people who examined the policy, many of whom are even Biden supporters, had a much different reaction:

Here we go again.

Before we begin, there are a few things you need to know.

  • It is a fact that police disproportionately stop, shoot and kill Black people. Study after study has shown that Black people have a significantly higher chance of being stopped, searched, handled with force and killed by police officers. Curiously, the disproportionate rate at which police kill Black people does not correlate with the rate at which Black people commit crimes, carry weapons or attack officers.  
  • It is a fact that increasing police budgets does not lower crime. The Washington Post looked at 60 years of data and found that “the correlation between changes in crime rates and spending per person in 2018 dollars is almost zero.” In fact, the data show the opposite is true. “On average, if a city spends 1 percentage point more of its budget on police, then there is an associated increase of 69.49 violent crimes per 100,000 people,” writes data scientist Ramzi Saud. However, Saud found that spending more on education and welfare actually lowers crime. 
  • There is no conclusive evidence that hiring more police officers makes people safer. Some studies show increased police presence reduces property crime while others see a “statistically significant, yet relatively weak connection between the components of police visibility and the sense of safety.” While cops make people feel safe, “for decades, scholars have acknowledged that local crime rates cannot be predicted by officer strength and police budgets,” reports the New York Times
  • It is a fact that police do not stop crime. We know that crime is influenced by a multitude of factors, including poverty, education and economics. In any given year, an average of 2 percent of all major crimes and less than 50 percent of reported crimes are cleared by law enforcement agencies (except for 1999-2000, when Cash Money Records took over). However, America’s violent crime rate has steadily declined for decades—even as the number of police per capita has remained relatively steady.

While President Biden’s Safer America Plan may simultaneously provide political cover for moderates and peace of mind for Middle America, it also conjures up a feeling of deja vu for Black Americans who managed to survive the mass incarceration boom of the 1990s that Biden partially helped fuel. The ideas outlined by the White House are typical of the Democratic strategy to gain political power by appeasing white people at the expense of Black lives. 

President Biden is proposing to kill Black people to make white people feel safe. 

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers a primetime speech at Independence National Historical Park September 1, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This is not an opinion. This is not an editorial. This is a plea to the Democrats who already know the effects this particular part of Biden’s agenda will have on Black America. Don’t do this to Black people. Biden already knows what will happen if this legislation passes, but it seems as if he doesn’t care. So, this is me begging you to fight harder. 

Don’t let them kill Black people. 

Not like this.

How did this even happen?

On July 29, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a letter urging her fellow Democrats to vote in favor of a complex procedural rule that allowed Congress to introduce seven separate pieces of legislation to the floor by consolidating the proposals into one vote. If the rule passed, congressional Democrats could return to their districts for the end-of-summer recess with a clear victory under their belts on some of the most pressing issues plaguing the country, including gun reform, police reform and rising crime rates.

Then everything fell apart.

While the Dems successfully passed the portion that restricted the availability of military-style assault weapons, the ploy to pass the other measures with one vote failed. Even though it was a victory for gun reform advocates who had long sought to reinstate the Clinton-era assault weapons ban, the failure to pass the entire package was the result of a behind-the-scenes battle between frontliners and the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Moderate Democrats from conservative-leaning districts argued that passing the police funding would blunt Republican accusations that Democrats are soft on crime and bent on defunding the police,” the Times reported. “But the police legislation drew criticism from progressives and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who insisted that more police accountability measures should be included.”

According to two members of the CBC, three legislative staffers and two insiders who spoke with theGrio on background, the intraparty opposition centered around two proposals on policing and public safety the White House has resurrected as President Biden’s Safer America Plan. 

“The CBC takes a lot of criticism—and deservedly so,” explained one Black representative. “But a lot of our work is beating back the stuff that doesn’t see the light of day that would harm Black folk. In this case, they wanted to protect the frontliners by undoing all the work we’ve done on police reform.”

“When we saw the plan, we were like: ‘Oh hell no!’ We couldn’t let them do this to Black folk. It was just crazy,”  said another former staffer familiar with the negotiations. “But it ain’t dead. They’re going to try to push this through the Senate. And it might work unless somebody stops them.”

We must stop them.

We are “somebody.” 

What is Biden’s plan?

Biden’s plan is not a single piece of legislation. It is actually a combination of separate but equally bad legislative proposals and budget items concocted to court independent white voters and appease moderates. 

To be fair, some of the provisions in Safer America are ideas that progressives have pushed for years, including:

  • Real crime prevention: It sets aside $20 billion for housing, mental health and alternate responders that “address the causes of crime and reduce the burdens on police so they can focus on violent crime.”
  • Gun reform: It would require background checks for all gun sales and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
  • Police training: Funds de-escalation training, mental health resources and education incentives for state, local and county agencies.
  • Drug treatment: Drug courts would offer “mandatory treatment and harm reduction instead of incarceration.” 

Safer America would give over $10 billion in funding to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program to hire “100,000 additional police officers who will be recruited, trained, hired, and supervised consistent with the standards in the President’s Executive Order to advance effective, accountable community policing in order to enhance trust and public safety.” If this sounds reasonable, there’s something you should know:

Safer America does not do any of this. 

While the White House release is worded to make the average person connect this funding with his executive order that bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants, it does not. In fact, Biden’s executive order only applies to federal law enforcement officers and does not contain an accountability mechanism for state and local agencies that receive COPS grants. 

Biden’s plan also imposes tougher penalties on drug dealers who sell fentanyl, cracks down on organized retail theft and increases the budget for the DEA, the Bureau of Alchohol Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Marshals Service. 

Of course, the White House website is just a summary. It is possible that the actual legislation would contain some of these measures. 

One of the components of Safer America is HR 6448. Sponsored by veteran frontliner Rep. Joshua Gottheimer (D-N.J.), the bill would give $50 million to law enforcement agencies for training, signing bonuses, pay and equipment. And remember that thing we said about education reducing crime? Well, Gottheimer’s plan would provide $10,000 for graduate education for police officers but does not include a single provision for police accountability or public education. A different discussion draft legislation that’s part of Safer America was provided to theGrio. It contains nothing substantive about use-of-force reporting, federal oversight, qualified immunity or militarization—reform measures that CBC members have been pushing for years.  

Privately, the plan has befuddled Black legislators. Aside from perpetuating the factless trope that more police equals less crime, insiders who spoke to theGrio all offered the same critique of their party’s political game plan. Specifically, they say the party has a habit of appeasing white moderates voters at the expense of its most reliable constituency—Black voters.  

“Even if you’re pro-police, how can anyone in the current environment think it’s a good idea to hire more police, give them more money and not hold them accountable?” asked one current Black legislator. “Even members of the caucus who support the president’s overall agenda don’t think it makes common sense. Unless, of course, you’re trying to appease white suburban voters. That’s all this is.” 

To be fair, it’s possible that frontline Dems or the White House might not know the specific issues the CBC wanted to include in the Safer America plan. Maybe they didn’t have time to include these provisions—writing legislation is a long and arduous process. Perhaps they didn’t have enough votes to pass these left-leaning ideas. If moderates didn’t know which CBC member to ask about the specifics, then maybe this was all just a lack of communication. Oh, wait…

There’s already a 2-year-old bill that addresses each of these issues. It’s literally called the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. Amazingly, it already has enough votes to pass the House! The legislation was sponsored by Karen Bass (D-Calif.) who was only serving as *checks notes*

The chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Police reform is one of the main issues that affect Black voters, and it’s almost like they want to pretend it doesn’t exist,” one CBC member told theGrio. “Well, not almost. How do yall say it…They tried it.” 

The sounds of whiteness

If it seems like you’ve heard this before, you probably have. 

On Jan 8, 1994, a group of Black activists, civil rights leaders, sociologists and celebrities convened at a conference organized by Rev. Jesse Jackson. They wanted to address the rise in crime and drug activity that was plaguing Black communities. When the subject turned to a piece of legislation pushed by moderate Democrats led by then-Senator Joe Biden, everyone turned to their elected officials. In spite of the prevailing narrative, it was common knowledge that police and incarceration didn’t stop crime. “Participants at the conference, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, vowed to fight it when the House takes up the measure later this month,” the Times reported

Seven months later, as the midterm elections approached, CBC members voted against a procedural issue that would bring the vote to the floor. But after “the White House, which has been accused by some on Capitol Hill of taking the caucus too much for granted, fought to turn around some of the black Democrats who had voted against it,” William Jefferson Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the largest crime bill in American history. The legislation supercharged mass incarceration, the racially biased war on drugs and the disproportionate crack versus cocaine sentence by beating Black people over the head with a blunt force object:

The Community Oriented Policing Services program.

The COPS program is the one part of the 1994 crime bill for which Biden has proudly taken credit. The criminal justice portion of his campaign website says he “spearheaded” the program that “authorized funding both for the hiring of additional police officers and for training on how to undertake a community policing approach.” Although COPS grants prove that the federal government can actually influence the policies of local and state law enforcement agencies, it morphed into a mechanism that militarized police departments, targeted street-level drug dealers and…

Instead of offering my opinion, I’ll let the Congressional Research Office explain:

From FY1995 to FY1999, the annual appropriation for the COPS program averaged nearly $1.4 billion. The relatively high levels of funding during this time period, relative to post-FY2000 appropriations, were largely the result of efforts to place 100,000 new law enforcement officers on the streets.

After the initial push to hire and fund 100,000 new law enforcement officers, Congress started to change the COPS program into a conduit for supporting a wider range of local law enforcement needs. Starting in FY1998, an increasing portion of the annual appropriation for COPS was dedicated to programs that helped law enforcement agencies purchase new equipment, combat methamphetamine production, upgrade criminal history records, and improve their forensic science capabilities.

But maybe this is different. 

Who’s to say that 100,000 cops won’t disproportionately target, brutalize and incarcerate Black people as they have always done? Maybe we can stop the opioid epidemic by differentiating between one particular kind of drug dealer versus another as we did with crack cocaine. With no codified measure of accountability, police departments across America could still spontaneously decide to treat all people equally. It’s possible that there are 100,000 brave police officers sitting at home right now who are chomping at the bit to turn the fantastic myth that lives in the hearts and minds of Joe Biden and white people everywhere into reality. 

I could be wrong. 

Maybe the facts are wrong. Maybe criminologists, sociologists, experts and the way numbers work are all wrong. Maybe the evidence-based data, peer-reviewed research, the Congressional Black Caucus, Black people and everything real that ever happened means absolutely nothing.

Maybe Joe Biden is right.

Maybe, for the first time in the entire history of this hallucination that we call American democracy, white people are actually right about a racial issue. I’m just saying…

I’m not willing to die to find out.

Not like this.

Michael Harriot

Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in 2022.

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