During a visit to 1 Police Plaza, the New York City Police Department’s headquarters in downtown Manhattan, Joe Biden asked officer Sumit Sulan to stand and praised his bravery. While responding to a domestic dispute in Harlem last month, the rookie officer shot and killed a man who fatally injured two of his colleagues.
The deaths of the two young officers, Jason Rivera, 22, and Wilbert Mora, 27, were among several violent incidents that shook New York and put its new mayor, former police captain Eric Adams, to the test.
Later, the presidential motorcade crossed the East River to Queens, where Biden met with a violence intervention group and community leaders in a classroom decorated for Black History Month at Public School 111. “We can’t just talk about violence and ignore students’ feelings of safety in schools,” K Bain, the founder and executive director of Community Capacity Development, a community violence intervention program, told the president.
“I agree,” Biden said quietly as Bain advocated for a community-based approach to violence reduction.
The meetings at 1 Police Plaza and PS 111 highlighted the complex public safety – and political – challenge that Democratic leaders face from New York City Hall to the White House and many other locations across the United States.
In the face of rising crime, Democrats are under pressure to demonstrate that they are aggressively confronting the issue, which is becoming a more pressing concern among voters, without abandoning their promises of police reform and accountability in response to repeated police killings of Black Americans and a history of racism in law enforcement.
Biden delivered two messages in New York. He asserted his support for law enforcement, emphatically rejecting activist calls to “defund the police,” which emerged during the summer of racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd and that Republicans are mercilessly exploiting to try to portray the president and his party as unconcerned about public safety. However, Biden also attempted to convey that he was listening to – and even learning from – the communities of color most affected by the pandemic-era violence.
Gun violence and homicides increased dramatically in 2020 and 2021, with Black and Latino communities bearing the brunt of the brunt. Though the toll remains far lower than it was in the early 1990s, the CDC reports that the increase from 2019 to 2020 represented the largest single-year increase in homicides in modern history.
According to public polling, voters are increasingly concerned about rising crime and dissatisfied with Biden’s handling of the issue. According to a December Fox Business poll, 77 percent of voters, including 67 percent of Democrats, were concerned about rising crime rates across the country. According to the poll, the only issue that voters were more concerned about was inflation.
Republicans believe the issue will be a powerful motivator for their base in November, particularly against a Democratic party divided on how to address the issue. And there are signs that the Republican campaign to portray American cities as lawless under Democratic control, aided by a conservative media echo chamber, is having an effect.
According to James, the politics of violent crime are complicated. However, he claims that the debate too often ignores the voices and needs of people in the most impacted communities.
Experts on violence point to a number of potential causes, including the economic hardship and social instability caused by the pandemic, which disproportionately impacted impoverished communities and resulted in fewer criminal trials, school closures and after-school programs, and reduced access to mental health services and drug treatment. Another possible contributing factor is the increase in firearm purchases and the rise of “ghost guns” – firearms assembled from online parts that lack the serial numbers required to trace them.
As a senator, Biden collaborated on several major pieces of anti-crime legislation, including a 1994 omnibus bill that academics and many elected officials from both parties now say paved the way for a period of mass incarceration of African Americans.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden was pressed to recant some of the provisions of the bill he helped draft. And, as president, he has taken steps to undo the law’s legacy, such as endorsing legislation that would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.