Home Crime Can Biden tackle rising crime without abandoning police reform promise? – The Guardian

Can Biden tackle rising crime without abandoning police reform promise? – The Guardian

Can Biden tackle rising crime without abandoning police reform promise? – The Guardian

A Gallup survey showed only 24% of Americans were satisfied with efforts to ‘reduce or control crime’, the lowest it’s been
Last modified on Sun 6 Feb 2022 09.39 EST
During a visit to 1 Police Plaza, the headquarters of the NYPD in downtown Manhattan, Joe Biden asked officer Sumit Sulan to stand as he praised his bravery. Last month, the rookie officer shot and killed a man who mortally wounded two of his colleagues while responding to a domestic dispute in Harlem.

The deaths of the two young officers, Jason Rivera, 22, and Wilbert Mora, 27, was one of several violent episodes that have shaken New York and tested its new mayor, former police captain Eric Adams.
“I admire the hell out of all of you,” Biden, flanked by Adams and other elected officials, said to the rows of uniformed blue seated behind him.
“The answer is not to defund the police,” he continued to applause. “It’s to give you the tools, the training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors.”
Later, the presidential motorcade crossed the East River to Queens, where Biden met with a violence intervention group and community leaders at Public School 111, in a classroom decorated for Black History Month.
“We can’t just talk about violence and not talk about students feeling safe in schools,” K Bain, the founder and executive director of Community Capacity Development, a community violence intervention program, told the president.
“I agree,” Biden interjected quietly, as Bain advocated for a community-based approach to reducing violence.
The meetings at 1 Police Plaza and PS 111 underscored the complex public safety – and political – challenge confronting Democratic leaders from New York’s city hall to the White House and many other places across the US.
Amid rising crime, Democrats are under pressure to prove that they are aggressively confronting the issue, an increasingly salient concern among voters, without abandoning their promises of police reform and accountability in response to the repeated police killings of Black Americans and a history of racism in law enforcement.
In New York, Biden sent dual messages. He forcefully asserted his support for law enforcement, loudly distancing himself from activist calls to “defund the police,” which emerged during the summer of racial justice protests after the killing of George Floyd and that Republicans are mercilessly using to try to brand the president and his party as unconcerned with public safety. But Biden also sought to convey that he was listening to – and even learning from – the communities of color most impacted by the pandemic-era violence.
“We all want safety, right?” said Quentin James, the president of Collective PAC, an organization dedicated to electing African American candidates. “Safety from criminals but also safety from police overreach. It’s not either/or. It has to be both/and.”
Gun violence and homicides rose sharply in 2020 and 2021, with Black and Latino communities hit the hardest. Though the toll remains far lower than it was in the early 1990s, the jump from 2019 to 2020 represented the largest single-year spike in homicides in modern history, according to the CDC.
“This is not a make-believe kind of thing,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a prominent New York-based Democratic consultant who was a police officer before working in politics.
Public polling shows voters are now deeply concerned about rising crime and unhappy with Biden’s handling of the issue. A Fox Business poll from December found that 77% of voters, including 67% of Democrats, were concerned about higher crime rates across the country. The only issue more concerning to voters, according to the poll, was inflation.
Yet, in a sign of the complexity of the issue, the same poll found that despite voters’ growing concern over the issue, less than half said they feared criminal activity “in their neighborhood”.
“It’s the sense that things are out of control,” Sheinkopf said. “And Democrats tend to lose elections when things appear to be out of control.”
Republicans believe the issue will be a powerful motivator for their base in November, especially against a Democratic party divided over its response to the problem. And there are signs the Republican effort to paint American cities as lawless under Democratic control, amplified by a conservative media echo chamber, are resonating.
According to Gallup’s annual “mood of the nation” survey, just 24% of Americans were satisfied with efforts to “reduce or control crime”, the lowest it’s been.
Frank Luntz, a prominent Republican pollster, said the issue was a top priority for voters in his focus groups, many of whom have grown disillusioned with political leadership on the issue. “It’s not just the spike in criminality that impacts people,” he said in an email. “It’s the perception that anyone, anywhere could themselves become a victim. It’s also the belief among many that the police are being handcuffed by the politicians into doing nothing.”
The White House has pushed back on right wing accusations that it’s been unresponsive to the issue, pointing to Biden’s crime-fighting agenda he released in last summer.
“I think we all agree or should agree that violent crime is a serious problem,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, noting the uptick began in 2020, under the previous administration. “We’re about the facts here, and addressing crime is something that is a root of the President’s agenda.”
From Richard Nixon’s “law and order” to Donald Trump’s “American carnage,” Republicans have a long history of using the threat of crime to stoke fear among white voters, said Michael Tesler, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine who has written extensively about the partisan divisions over race and identity.
“The Republican Party and their base are increasingly animated by white grievance issues,” he said. “You can see this in their playbook on critical race theory, the strong push against Biden’s immigration policies and also on crime.”
The politics of violent crime are complex, said James. But he said the debate is too often ignores the voices and the needs of the people in the communities that are the most impacted.
“Crime is always of concern with Black voters,” he said. “But we’re hearing about it now because it’s happening in places that people thought were safer.”
Experts who study violence point to several possible drivers, among them the economic hardship and social instability caused by the pandemic, which fell hardest on impoverished communities and led to fewer criminal trials, school closures and after-school programs, and reduced access to mental health services and drug treatment. Another possible contributing factor is the surge of firearm purchases and the rise of “ghost guns” – firearms assembled from parts bought online that lack serial numbers needed to trace them.
DeVone Boggan, the founder of Advance Peace, a community violence intervention program, said the pandemic “exposed just how disconnected those communities” are from the services they need to address systemic health and economic disparities. But it’s also proved how successful meaningful investment in violence prevention programs can be.
In Richmond, where Advance Peace was first developed, gun homicide rates dropped by nearly 70% over the past decade. In 2020, Richmond saw only a modest increase in homicides with 22 people killed that year compared to 17 the year before.
“That tells us that when we make long-term commitments to non-law enforcement-based strategies, and we make requisite funding commitments long-term … that work can support reductions in gunfire even when you see things like a pandemic,” said Boggan, who made this point directly to Biden during a meeting at the White House on gun crime prevention in June.
During his visit to New York, Biden emphasized his administration’s efforts to reduce violent crime by cracking down on illegal gun sales and encouraging state and local governments to use the pandemic relief aid to “put more cops on the beat.”
Biden has also called on Congress to approve his budget proposal, which includes $300m in federal grants for police departments and $200m for community violence prevention programs, and to pass gun safety legislation, like universal background checks.
Yet the approach also highlights the limits of what Biden can do without action in Congress and buy-in from local governments.
A bipartisan attempt to overhaul policing tactics and accountability collapsed last year. A proposal to invest $5bn in community violence intervention initiatives is tied up in the stalled negotiations over the president’s Build Back Better agenda – derailed by Republican intransigence and conservative Democrats.
The focus on crime also brings Biden to the forefront of an issue that has proved difficult for him over the course of his long tenure in elected office.
As a senator, Biden helped write several major pieces of anti-crime legislation, including a 1994 omnibus bill that academics and many elected officials in both parties now say paved the way for an era of mass incarceration of Black Americans.
During the 2020 presidential primary, Biden was pushed to disavow some elements of the bill he helped write. And as president, he has taken steps to further undo the legacy of the law, such as endorsing a bill that would end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
Now he finds himself caught between an aggressive Republican campaign to paint him as soft on crime and a progressive flank demanding he live up to his promises of criminal justice reform.
Many Democrats see Adams as a model. Adams, the city’s second Black mayor and a moderate who joined the NYPD after being beaten by officers when he was 15, placed public safety as the center of his campaign, portraying himself as a bridge between liberal activists and law enforcement.
Sheinkopf said the mayor’s credibility with law enforcement and his support among voters of color helps deflect Republican accusations that the party is anti-police as well as progressive criticism of a tougher approach.
“All he’s got to do is cling to Adams and say, ‘I’m going to follow what Eric Adams does because he’s an expert,” Sheinkopf said.
The interplay was on display in New York, where Adams, referring to himself as the “Biden of Brooklyn”, praised the president as he called for a “9/11-type response” to the “domestic terror that is pervasive in this city and country”.
“Mayor Adams, you and I agree,” Biden said at the NYPD headquarters.
The alliance worries progressives who hear echoes of the punitive “law and order” approach Democrats embraced in the 1990s. Aspects of Adam’s “blueprint” to reduce gun violence – welcomed by Democrats who believe the problem has become a political liability for the party – sparked backlash from progressives, such as a proposal to resurrect a version of the plainclothes anti-crime units that were disbanded in 2020.
Police reform advocate Robert Gangi called the plan “old wine in a new bottle” that relied “mainly on punitive law enforcement tactics”. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, told the New York Times that she was concerned Democrats were reverting to a “jails-and-police-centered policy” that doesn’t address the root causes of crime.
Boggan, too, worries about this.
“If we go down this road, this road that we’ve already been down,” he warned, “we will dramatically and in devastating fashion cost the communities most impacted by gun violence the opportunity for real public safety.”



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