By Kamau Butcher / Truthout
Back in November, pollsters told us that the GOP’s fearmongering would sway voters across the nation. Thankfully, the false narrative of rising crime wasn’t enough to motivate voters to grant Republicans a “red wave.”
However, the lack of a “red wave” did not mean a reversal of bipartisan investments in policing. In December, the Biden administration tripled down investment in the police by granting more than $770 million to subsidize local law enforcement, and allocated an additional $324 million to hire 1,800 new police officers across the country.
More funding for police flies in the face of what advocates for overpoliced communities have long known — the way to resolve the violence is by addressing its root causes: poverty and inequality.
How the 1994 Crime Bill Got Us Here
Two years after the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor ignited the largest racial justice protests in the United States since the civil rights movement, President Joe Biden proposed a measure to give an additional $13 billion to the COPS Program — declaring that the answer to public safety is not defunding the police, it’s to “fund the police.” This plan, like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act before it, completely ignores the demands of Americans who took to the streets en masse against police brutality, of the advocates who work tirelessly within the system for change and of the communities of color who bear the brunt of police violence. It also disregards the overwhelming evidence that shows the police do not keep us safe.
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The COPS Program, aka “Community Oriented Policing Services,” was a key component of the 1994 crime bill. For nearly 30 years the COPS Program has funneled over $19 billion to state and local governments that have increased the presence, scale and harm of policing nationwide — arming police with military-grade weapons and surveillance equipment to use primarily in Black communities. Ultimately, the COPS program has done little to improve public safety in our communities and instead only further proved that the presence of more cops leads to more violence.
The 1994 crime bill, which Joe Biden authored, is widely acknowledged as having ushered in an era of mass incarceration, which has devastated Black and Brown communities for decades. The Safer America Plan merely recycles failed policies of overfunding the police, oversurveillance and underfunding social programming in communities of color, using the same crime narrative that Biden used in the early ’90s. People who are formerly and currently incarcerated experience this firsthand as sentencing laws, increased surveillance and prison expansion devastated the fabric of Black and Brown communities in the wake of the bill’s passage in September 1994. After nearly 30 years of failure, how can we expect these policies to produce a positive outcome?
I serve as director of the People’s Coalition for Safety and Freedom (PCSF), a group composed of advocates and organizers directly impacted by the criminal legal system. We know from experience and analysis that the way to resolve the violence is by addressing its root causes — poverty and inequality. We’re working to repeal the 1994 crime bill and replace it with a bill that invests in safety systems we know work for our communities, instead of more cops and cages. Members of our coalition know firsthand which solutions work and which don’t and are working to break the cycle of exclusion that legislators have followed with the same outcomes while our communities continue to suffer.
A safer plan for America would invest in its people by promoting alternative deterrents to violence. Imagine what $13 billion would do to create safety in our most impoverished communities. It could guarantee housing, jobs and health services. It could provide mental health advocates, social workers, violence interrupters and educators instead of cops in every community. PCSF’s members are leading these real safety initiatives across the country: In Oakland, The Anti Police-Terror Project offers non-police responses to individuals experiencing various crises, including but not limited to psychiatric emergencies, substance use support and domestic violence situations that require victim extraction. Families for Justice as Healing and The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls established the Community Love Fund, which distributes recurring, direct cash relief to formerly incarcerated women in Roxbury, Massachusetts. These types of interventions save lives. The only thing missing in these efforts is the resources to implement these solutions at a greater scale.
However, members of our coalition were left confused and frustrated by the administration’s decisions to invest more money into cops and cages. Biden’s policing investments, just as they did 30 years ago, undermine efforts to establish and maintain safety in our communities. It’s baffling that directly impacted communities and advocates with our fingers on the pulse of this issue are consistently excluded from public safety policy making. Instead, Biden let police groups like the National Association of Police Organizations write his crime bill, with the initial goal of hiring additional 100,000 new police officers to increase public safety. 30 years later, our communities are suffering the same consequences of the same policy decisions, made largely by the same people. It’s high time we’re allowed to weigh in. Our future rests in a participatory democracy that centers on those who are most impacted. This is why we are pushing for new legislation to replace the 1994 crime bill and address the harm it’s caused. We know that the people closest to the problem are the closest to the solution. And the promise of real public safety will never be realized by keeping those people in the dark.