Our country has had enough of leaders with false promises. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police, Americans everywhere are calling for structural change. In this moment, we must use our power as Democratic voters and young people to put pressure on Joe Biden. While many of the changes to public safety and police departments need to come from within local and state governments, America needs a national leader who will champion civil and human rights.
Recent conversations on racism compelled many organizations, including our own, to reflect on what racial justice looks like and how far we are from it. American democracy has failed Black Americans for centuries and it is time for not only the Democratic party, but also all of America, to stand true to its values of equality and justice. Although we endorsed Biden earlier this year when he became the presumptive nominee, we recognize that he has not only fallen short in advocating for fundamental change, but that he has also actively pursued policies that contributed to the criminalization of Black and Brown people. Penn Dems calls on Biden to take accountability for his harmful criminal justice record and to become the human rights leader that America so desperately needs.
In recent months, Joe Biden has responded to the dual tragedies of coronavirus and police killings with resolve, but we must put pressure on our future president to support his words with concrete actions. We cannot separate police brutality from the violent and racist history of policing, sentencing, and incarceration. In doing so, we acknowledge the harm that Biden has done while in office.
Biden’s 1994 Crime Bill expanded uses of the death penalty, a sentence disproportionately given to people of color and mentally ill individuals. It called for higher mandatory minimum sentences, with a particular increase for drug-related crimes, and it limited the rights and benefits for the formerly incarcerated. The bill championed the popular “tough on crime” approach during the country-wide escalation of policing, discriminatory stop-and-frisk tactics, mass incarceration, and the racist War on Drugs. This “tough on crime” approach amounted to a war against Black and Brown communities through police violence, which limited economic and educational opportunities.
Joe Biden needs to take full accountability for the consequences of his actions, as Bernie Sanders has already done. While Biden and the politicians who supported this bill are not wholly responsible for mass incarceration and police violence, their landmark legislation exploited the legitimate fears and concerns of Black Americans, and set the tone for the racist, ineffective, and shameful norms in our criminal justice system that continue today.
Joe Biden has the platform to call for fundamental change, and we must pressure him to use it. As of now, Biden’s criminal justice platform eliminates the burden of cash bail, opposes the death penalty instated in the 1994 Crime Bill, and investigates local governments for police brutality using so-called “consent decrees”.
These policies are a step in the right direction, but more fundamental changes are necessary. As a club that advocates for change within and outside our party, we have been in direct contact with the Biden campaign, pressuring them to listen to young people. We believe that Biden must change his current criminal justice plan and adopt policies that community leaders and activists have pushed for.
Joe Biden has proposed increasing police budgets for better training, but these reforms have proven costly and insufficient. He and the Democratic party must boldly change course. Funneling more money into police departments for largely ineffective training counteracts the goal of community leaders and activists to reduce the budget and role of the police. Police have mistreated Black Americans for centuries with little repercussion, and Biden’s proposed reforms do not address the pain, mistreatment, and systemic violence that Black Americans have endured. If he truly believes in systemic racism, then Biden must dismantle the system.
Penn Dems calls on Joe Biden and the Democratic party to eventually reallocate the majority of money away from police departments and into mental health programs, community ambassadors, homelessness services, and education. Federal officials must end Pentagon-supported militarization of local law enforcement and entirely reimagine what community safety looks like. We can prevent violence and crime by providing the right socioeconomic tools and mental health support.
The group that handles minor traffic violations or assists people with mental illness should not also be responsible for responding to the scene of a murder. While it might be daunting to imagine a new vision for public safety, America must remedy its past transgressions with bold actions. Replacing law enforcement with community-based support structures is just one step towards having a more equitable and safe society.
Additionally, while the majority of incarcerated people are held in state facilities, the federal government must take the necessary step of legalizing cannabis. This drug, although now widely accepted, has disproportionately incarcerated Black and Brown individuals. If elected President, Biden should legalize marijuana. The federal government must also work to remedy the consequences of this disproportionately-imposed imprisonment by providing more support to formerly incarcerated people, who face many barriers once leaving prison.
For centuries, Black Americans have been the victims of violence and discrimination by our government. Unless we start prioritizing Black Lives, then all lives can’t matter. Unless we force our leaders to change, change will not occur. And unless we directly confront systemic racism, then the “soul of the nation” that Biden seeks to restore will remain corrupt.
OWEN VOUTSINAS-KLOSE, President
TAMARA WURMAN, Vice President
MICHAEL NEVETT, Political Director
FRANCOIS BARRILLEAUX, Legislative Director
EMMA WENNBERG, Communications Director
ALISON ROYCE, Outreach Director
CASSY INGERSOLL, Membership Director
DYLAN RADLEY, Treasurer
EMILIA ONUONGA, Secretary
Have opinions of your own you would like to share? Submit a guest column.