President Biden is facing mounting pressure from civil rights groups to enact new criminal justice policies or risk failing to deliver another key promise to Black voters.
Activists had hoped the momentum from the nationwide outrage over George Floyd’s killing by a police officer, and the election of Vice President Kamala Harris, a Black woman with deep experience in law enforcement, would set the stage for changes including easier prosecution of police misconduct and limiting their immunity from civil lawsuits.
With legislative efforts languishing in Congress and little public engagement by the White House, Democrats are in danger of disappointing a crucial voting bloc in the run-up to the midterm election, the Los Angeles Times reports.
“If we don’t see movement, we’re facing an uphill battle in turnout, in motivation,” said Aimee Allison, who heads She the People, a national network that focuses on turning out women of color in swing states to vote.
Recent incidents such as shootings of on-duty police officers, smash-and-grab robberies and assaults on Asian Americans have propelled public safety to a top concern of voters. Even mayors of progressive places like San Francisco are proposing more policing in response.
The current environment makes many politicians wary of appearing to scale back law enforcement. Though most Democrats have not sought to cut police budgets, Republicans have eagerly linked them to the “defund the police” movement supported by some activists, in a bid to portray the party’s efforts to overhaul law enforcement practices as a risk to public safety.
“Unfortunately, the Democrats have become associated with the sort of soft on crime approach … which I think has really hurt them,” said Ruy Teixeira of the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
The party finds itself squeezed by both sides in the debate. GOP candidates are on the airwaves hammering Democrats for fostering lawlessness, while prominent Black activists and media personalities are pressing Biden and Harris to follow through on campaign pledges.
“I hear the frustration, but let’s not deny the impact that we’ve had and agree also that there is a whole lot more work to be done and it is not easy to do,” Harris told radio personality Lenard “Charlamagne tha God” McKelvey.
Biden may issue an executive order encouraging state and local governments to se federal funding to spur departments to improve training, recruitment and tracking of incidents.
“We need to deliver something in regards to police reform, so I am hopeful that the White House will act,” said Rep. Karen Bass, a Los Angeles Democrat running for mayor.