“We must not overreact and we must not repeat the mistakes of the past where crime has been politicized and the solutions have been focused on trying to arrest our way out of the problem,” said Udi Ofer, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Justice Division. “If there is a lot of jargon in that speech that feeds the tough-on-crime narrative, than yes we have a problem.”
Quentin James, the president of Collective PAC, an organization dedicated to electing African American officials, said Mr. Biden’s comments would be welcomed if he focused on the “root causes of crime and not just the symptoms of much larger social ills.”
“It’s not like you’re going to be pro-police or pro-cops or you’re going to be pro-reform — it’s not that cut-and-dried,” he said, adding that the important thing was hearing “nuance and balance” on the issue. “Black people are nervous about the crime spike and how to deal with that, but to deal with that in a way where we’re not just doubling police budgets.”
A bipartisan compromise on a national policing overhaul has stalled in Congress, despite Mr. Biden urging lawmakers to reach a deal by May 25, the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Democrats continue to debate reducing funding for police departments, while Republicans have seized on the “defund the police” slogan to attack them as weak on public safety.
“If they think they’re just going to pass a few gun laws and everything is going to be fine, they’re absolutely not in touch with the reality of what’s going on across our country,” Representative John Katko, Republican of New York and the ranking member of the House Homeland Security committee, told Fox News on Tuesday.
For some, Mr. Biden’s comments on Wednesday will be a reminder of his political baggage. As a senator, Mr. Biden championed a 1994 crime bill that many experts say fueled mass incarceration, prompting questions during his presidential campaign over his commitment to overhauling the criminal justice system.
Mr. Biden has resisted calls by some members of the Democratic Party to divest in police forces, calling instead for using Justice Department grants to encourage police departments to change and eliminating sentencing disparities. The administration took a step toward the latter goal on Tuesday when the Justice Department backed a Senate proposal to equalize punishments for crack and powder cocaine offenses — which would end disparities that Mr. Biden helped create as a senator.