When President Joe Biden won the November 2020 election, he made a promise to Black Americans: “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.” The then president-elect also promised he’d address issues of systemic racism and oppression that have wreaked havoc on the Black community since 1619. However, on two of the most popular policy issues concerning the group, Biden has fluctuating viewpoints. He is in favor of studying reparations for slavery, but opposed to defunding the police.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarified Biden’s position on reparations to reporters on Wednesday, Feb. 17 — the same say the issue was being debated on Capitol Hill. “He supported a study of reparations … and studying the continuing impacts of slavery, which is being discussed in this hearing on H.R. 40,” Psaki said.
H.R. 40 is a bill which was first introduced in Congress by Congressman John Conyers in 1989. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of the Congressional Black Caucus reintroduced the bill in January 2020, and the second congressional hearing about the bill also took place Wednesday.
The bill “establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. The commission shall examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.” It is something Psaki reiterated Biden is behind.
“He continues to demonstrate his commitment to take comprehensive action to address the systemic racism that persists today. Obviously having that study is a part of that,” Psaki continued. “He has signed an executive order on his first day which would begin to deliver on his commitment to having an across government approach to addressing racial inequality and making sure equity is a part of his entire policy agenda, but he certainly would support a study of reparations.”
Psaki wouldn’t commit to Biden signing the actual bill when asked why he wouldn’t create an executive order to implement a reparations policy. Instead she said Biden would not wait on a study to take action against racial injustice.
“We understand that we don’t need a study to take action right now in systemic racism so he wants to take action right now within his own government in the meantime,” Psaki said.
On the issue of defunding the police, however, Biden is not as open. During an hour-long town hall hosted by CNN, Biden said he’s not going to implement the policy. When asked how to avoid over-legislating police officers, Biden answered “By, number one, not defunding the police.”
“We have to put more money in police work, so we have legitimate community policing, and we’re in a situation where we change the legislation,” Biden continued.
Biden acknowledged there was systemic bias in law enforcement, but offered alternative solutions to defunding the police, like hiring a more diverse police force and teaching officers to avoid racial profiling. He added many officers just want to make it home to their own families.
“There is inherent prejudice built into the system as well. And we also need to provide for — and it’s happening — more African-American and more Hispanic police officers. Now, by the way, they don’t get it all right either, by a long shot,” Biden said. “But every cop, when they get up in the morning and put on that shield, has a right to expect to be able to go home to their family that night. Conversely, every kid walking across the street wearing a hoodie is not a member of a gang and is about to knock somebody off.”
It’s not the first time Biden has expressed that he is against defunding the police. He had similar sentiments last year on the campaign trail. “I’m totally opposed to defunding the police officers,” Biden said during one of his debates with then President Donald Trump. He added he believed police actually needed more assistance so they could return to effective community policing.