Joe Biden and Black folks: An aside in three parts

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Part one: Let’s get this out of the way

Donald Trump must go. His administration has proven to be destructive and divisive. He has courted white supremacists and Wall Street and bedded them together in a ménage à trois of greed, guns, and pu**y grabbing. He has made incompetence look like a skilled artform. He is yet, another example of the privilege and opportunity that this country affords to white male mediocrity. Just look at the damage he has already done. He has already appointed nearly 200 conservative federal judges, many of which will hold their position for the rest of their lives. This will have devastating effects on criminal justice reform measures for decades to come. He has committed human rights atrocities by separating immigrant children from their families and placing them in cages. In 2019, nearly 70,000 children were detained by the United States. He dismantled the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, the pandemic team created under the Obama administration. Now, in a mere six months, more Americans have died from COVID-19, than Americans that died in the Vietnam War. He has suppressed science, mocked the media, and bullied his political opponents.

So, it is abundantly clear that the stakes are incredibly high in the November election. Another four years of Trump may totally dismantle the country. The amount of damage a lame-duck Trump presidency will do is unfathomable.

For African Americans, the stakes are even higher. Trump represents a modern day Bull Conner or a pre-paralyzed George Wallace. He is an east-coast, city slicker version of Jim Crow. He wears dress shirts and suits to cover up the redness of his neck. We are not fooled. We can see his sheets under his slacks.

Part two: He aint my uncle and if he comes to the cookout, we should put a little Shug Avery pee in his lemonade

Biden has been given an unprecedented amount of acceptance in the black community due to his proximity to the first black president. He was the laughable yet likeable sidekick to our superhero. However, behind the million-dollar smile and overly-affectionate physical gestures, there is nearly 50 years of disturbing legislation, much of which has had catastrophic effects on the black community.

If Trump embodies Jim Crow, Biden legislates him. Understand, racism isn’t just about burning crosses and an unhealthy affinity for Confederate flags. Racism, in particular systemic racism, is about policy. It is policy that creates inequalities, discrimination, and imbalanced power relationships. Let us review three of the most damaging of Biden’s policies that have had racist effects (verbatim quotes are bolded).

On August 4th 1983, a bill was introduced to the United States Congress, S.1762 — Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, sponsored by Senator Strom Thurmond and spearheaded by Senator Joe Biden. Some highlights of the bill included:

· Allowed juveniles to be charged as adults. “Makes certain procedural amendments allowing certain juveniles to be prosecuted as adults. Allows access to juvenile records under certain circumstances without a court order.”

· Allowed surveillance without a court order. “Amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act to provide for emergency interception of wire or oral communications before an order authorizing such interception can be obtained.”

· Increased the reward for informants. “Increases from $50,000 to $150,000 the award of compensation given to informers for information leading to forfeiture.

On September 25, 1986, another bill entitled Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was introduced by Sen. Robert Dole and co-authored by Senator Joe Biden. Some of the highlights of this bill included:

· Created cocaine/crack sentencing disparities (more prison time for crack cocaine possession). “Drug Penalties Enhancement Act of 1986 — Amends the Controlled Substances Act to revise and increase the criminal penalties for violations of such Act.”

· Created mandatory minimums. “Drug Possession Penalty Act of 1986 — Amends the Controlled Substances Act to establish a scale of minimum penalties for first and subsequent possession offenses.”

· “Establish penalties for any person at least 21 years of age who employs anyone under 21 in controlled substance trafficking.”

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 was written by Senator Joe Biden and was introduced by Representative Jack Brooks on October 26, 1993. Some of the highlights of the bill included:

· Gave money to states to build or enhance prisons. “Authorizes the Attorney General to make grants to individual States and to States organized as multi-State compacts to develop, expand, modify, operate, or improve correctional facilities and programs, including boot camp facilities and programs and other alternative confinement facilities and programs, to free conventional prison space for violent offenders.”

· Repealed “good time” mandate. “Amends the Federal criminal code to repeal the requirement that credit toward service of sentence for satisfactory behavior (“good time”) be granted to a prisoner serving a term of imprisonment of more than one year for a crime of violence.”

· Required the building of cheaper prisons. “Requires the Attorney General, in administering each grant program funded pursuant to this Act, to encourage: (1) innovative methods for the low-cost construction and operation of facilities and the reduction of administrative cost and overhead expenses.”

· Allowed for prison overcrowding. “Amends the Federal criminal code to prohibit a Federal court from holding prison or jail crowding unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment except to the extent that an individual plaintiff inmate proves that the crowding causes the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment of that inmate…Prohibits a Federal court from placing a ceiling on the inmate population of any Federal, State, or local detention facility as an equitable remedial measure for conditions that violate the Eighth Amendment unless crowding is inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on particular identified prisoners.”

· Ended Pell Grants for incarcerated people. “Amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prohibit awards of Pell Grants to any individual incarcerated in a Federal or State penal institution.”

· Life in prison after three convictions (3 strikes law). “Requires that a person convicted in a court of the United States of a serious violent felony be sentenced to life imprisonment if: (1) the person has been convicted on separate prior occasions in a Federal or State court of two or more serious violent felonies, or of one or more serious violent felonies and one or more serious drug offenses; and (2) each serious violent felony or serious drug offense used as a basis for sentencing under such provision, other than the first, was committed after the defendant’s conviction of the preceding serious violent felony or serious drug offense.”

What effect did these policies have on the black community? For starters, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 created racial disparities in the criminal justice system like never before. In 2006, the ACLU released a report that examined 20 years of criminal justice data related to the Anti-Drug Act of 1986. The report found:

· Mandatory minimum sentencing gave low level drug dealers harsher sentences than major traffickers

· 100 to 1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine increased the number of African Americans in federal prisons

· 80 percent of crack sentences went to African Americans, but 66 percent of crack users were white or Hispanic.

· By 1990 federal drug sentences for African Americans were 49% higher than in 1986

Last year, Udi Ofer, Deputy National Political Director and Director of Campaign for Smart Justice-ACLU, wrote an article entitled, How the 1994 Crime Bill Fed the Mass Incarceration Crisis, in which he points out how Democrats used the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to bolster their reputation of being tough on crime. Ofer wrote,

‘The 1994 law shaped Democratic Party politics for years to come. Under the leadership of Bill Clinton, Democrats wanted to wrest control of crime issues from Republicans, so the two parties began a bidding war to increase penalties for crime, trying to outdo one another. The 1994 crime bill was a key part of the Democratic strategy to show that it can be tougher-on-crime than Republicans.

While Republicans continued their Willie Horton-style fear-mongering that pushed for more punitive policies in the states, the official 1996 Democratic Party platform, which was meant to provide a vision for the Democratic Party nationwide, relied heavily on the 1994 law to display their tough on crime credentials. An entire section in the platform is dedicated to “tough punishment,” taking pride in the fact that the Democratic Party passed tougher sentencing laws and provided more federal funding for prisons in the states.

The platform encouraged states to pass truth-in-sentencing laws, bragged about instituting the death penalty for nearly 60 more crimes, and even encouraged the prosecution of young people as adults.’

This is Biden’s legacy. It is a legacy haunted by the souls of black bodies tossed in the bottomless pit of federal and state prisons, to languish for 30 years before dying alone on a cold, metal, cot…all because they had a piece of crack in their pocket in 1987.

Part three: “The best apology is a black agenda”- CTG

Biden owes black people. He owes us big time. First, he owes us an apology for the destructive legislation that he authored. As we speak, black men and women are sitting in federal prisons, for distribution of marijuana, in states where marijuana is now legal. Biden must address this. He must remedy this. He must apologize for sacrificing black bodies to the god of political expediency.

Secondly, he owes black people a thank you. It was black hands that handed him the Democratic nomination. Black folks in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama showed up to the polls and made a decision to pull the lever for Biden.

Lastly, he owes us a comprehensive plan to ameliorate the conditions in the black community, some of which his policies created. The black community needs race-specific policies to address wealth inequality, unemployment, mass incarceration, and health disparities. Voting is commerce, not charity. If Biden wants us to cast our vote for him in November, he must offer us something to vote for and not just someone to vote against.

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