In this year’s Democratic and Republican National Conventions, there was a sense of defensiveness, a lack of accountability for actions taken by the current administration, and a kind of “hot potato” approach to who should take responsibility to “Make America Great Again.” What’s there to make great “again” since our current president has been in office for four years? Shouldn’t America already be great because of him, not in spite of him? The red MAGA hats proposed promises that President Trump has yet to fulfill.
Since his election and subsequent presidency, Trump has taken an insensitive, careless, and unintelligent approach to leading our nation through some of our toughest modern struggles: a pandemic and an uprising against police brutality unlike I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime. This November, we have a very important choice to make.
Our choices, former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, accepted their parties’ nominations for candidacy and expressed their very different approaches to criminal justice. Yes, add me to the list of millions of folks (not all of them are people of color either) who miss the smoothness in the swag of former president Barack Obama. We miss the ease of which his words left his mouth filled with compassion, empathy, and intelligence. I voted for him and for this (and many other reasons), I’ll be voting this November for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Why? Because Joe Biden has shown us what he can do, I get a kick out of his lack of filter and am refreshed by his honesty and Kamala the same.
But let’s take a look at their stance on criminal justice.
During various speeches within the RNC’s lineup — more specifically, the speech of Vice President Pence — blame was put onto Joe Biden, claiming that Biden’s policies will increase crime across the nation. It is not lost on me that the very night before the RNC kicked off, Jacob Blake was shot from behind by police in front of his young sons, an unexplained use of unnecessary force on another unarmed Black man. On August 24th, the RNC began with Vice President Pence setting the tone, deflecting responsibility and conveying to Americans that “The hard truth is you will not be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
For me, I do not feel safe in Trump’s America, and it’s not “great” to live in a country where I am afraid to send my son to the store for me, afraid he will never return home to me because he is Black, shot and killed at 13 years old by police because of the color of his skin. There is a legacy of trauma we’ve dealt with as Black people in America, I myself am still trying to process it all, but these feelings, this trauma comes to the surface every time I hear Trump speak or hear of the killing of another Black person. All I can ever think about is “that could have been me.”
The America that Trump is building is one that is meant to push me (and people who look like me) out. But the facts are important. Data analyst Jeff Asher, co-founder of AH Datalytics reported that “the murder rate this year has increased by 26% through July, compared with a year ago. Other violent crimes are up slightly, while property crimes are down by 7.7%.” The reason for this increase can be “blamed” on…what? Perhaps the pandemic? Or perhaps the increased sentiment by our current administration that carrying a gun is our God-given right and that what we say to another human doesn’t matter — that we should say (and do) whatever we want to one another.
As Biden reminded us, “right now … we’re in Donald Trump’s America.” Of Trump’s proposed actions supporting criminal justice issues, he has fallen short. What he has succeeded in doing, with support from influencers and fellow reality stars, namely Kim Kardashian West, is pardoning people (some of whom are his friends) and others like Alice Johnson. In late 2018, he signed the First Step Act, an attempt to reduce sentencing times for low-level crimes like crack cocaine possession, often crimes Black and Brown people are saddled with long (sometimes life) sentences for such crimes.
This summer, U.S. Marshals and federal agents descended upon cities in which riots and protests were happening in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. An attempt by President Trump was to sign an executive order in the weeks following George Floyd’s murder, committing to providing federal grants to police forces for improved police training and creating a database which houses reports on police misconduct called Safe Policing for Safe Communities; however, activists argue that this is not enough to reduce crime, to help improve the police force, and to truly improve criminal justice policies.
For presidential candidate Joe Biden, we have eight years of work within the criminal justice sphere to look at, but it isn’t necessarily all that rosy either. While Biden has time on his side, as he spent over forty-five years in the U.S. Senate, eight years as vice president in the Obama Administration, and now is the Democratic pick for president, his track record does not prove to be super-successful in reducing crime within the streets of America.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (commonly called “the crime bill”) was instituted by then-President Clinton and then-Senator Biden, who backed the policy. It has been blamed for unfairly criminalizing Black Americans — and, some say, leading to mass incarceration.
Recently, according to NPR, Biden’s response to the recent issues with police and police brutality has been to propose “… a ban on police chokeholds, a new federal police oversight commission, new national standards for when and how police use force, more mandatory data collection from local law enforcement and other steps.”
Ultimately, Biden’s record (like Trump’s, to an extent) was a response to the issues of the time. Some responses were appropriate (like support to protect women and ban assault weapons), while other parts in the act were less successful, accused of leading to increased societal and cultural strains which plague us today. According to the nonprofit organization the Sentencing Project, 2.2 million people have been incarcerated over the last 40 years, a 500% increase in the United States alone, which sheds light on the fact that Joe Biden’s support of criminal justice reforms is not to blame for the historical implications of mass incarceration.
It is clear that President Trump’s attempts at reducing crime rates, creating a stronger police force, and keeping Americans safe have fallen short. What is also clear is that policies supported by Joe Biden over the years were not 100% successful. In this game, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all. There is no perfect contender. No matter who wins this November, what we desperately need is a sense of safety and compassion. But of the two candidates, I think there’s a clear answer as to which will be more likely to make that happen.
The stark difference between President Trump and Joe Biden is in their responses. President Trump’s responses to societal and national issues are one of someone reactive instead of someone who plans, considers the facts, takes decisive action, and follows through to ensure the proposed policies come to life — his attempt to “Make America Great Again.” While presidential candidate Joe Biden’s responses to issues of the time are clear, actionable, and address how he will work to resolve some of the issues around criminal justice, they have sometimes missed the mark.
Neither candidate has a perfect track record when it comes to criminal justice reforms, but what really sets Biden and Trump apart on the issue is that one’s policies are colorblind and another is blinded by the color of one’s skin.