Why Joe Biden’s Murky History on Racism May Lead to His Downfall in the 2020 Election

Joe Cush discusses US presidential candidate Joe Biden and his record on equality and justice issues. 

The United States is a nation of the politically dissatisfied. Its two-party system is a colossus that restricts diverse political choice, and many people consider Joe Biden and the Democratic Party too similar to the Republicans to deliver real change, the parties being ‘two wings on the same bird’. In recent months this disillusionment with the political establishment has reached a boiling point. Black Lives Matter protests have erupted in response to the police murder of George Floyd and a wider context of systemic racism present not only in the police force but in almost every institution of the United States.

Within this context, the Democrats are facing a tight contest in the upcoming 2020 election. Joe Biden will be relying heavily on the African American vote to push him over the line, as was the case when he narrowly defeated Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Some have suggested that the recent Black Lives Matter protests represent a boost for the Democrats’ chances, as they have galvanised support amongst a historically reliable voter bloc. Experts have also noted that there will be millions of new voters able to vote in 2021, including large numbers of ethnic minorities inherently adverse to the Trump Administration due to its embracing of racist and white supremacist factions.

However, the current Black Lives Matter protests may hinder Biden’s chances of success, as they have cast a bright spotlight on his murky history on issues of race and policing.

Biden is a long-standing supporter of ‘penal populism’, the discounted idea that a greater police presence and harsher prison sentences equals less crime. The political manifestation of these beliefs has been realised in many acts and legislations that Biden has authored or sponsored. In the 1980s Biden supported multiple Anti Drug Abuse Acts that disproportionately heightened imprisonment rates among black communities for drug offences. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (which Biden authored) dedicated billions of dollars for prisons and increased numbers of police and is widely considered as crucial in instigating the shift towards the mass incarceration of black men in the United States.

In the current context of protests and anger, Biden has faced severe criticism for presuming the support of the African Americans, saying Black voters who vote for Trump ‘ain’t black’. While Biden has supported the Black Lives Matter movement to a relative extent, he has discounted the movement’s more radical demands of defunding the police, and his proposal of $300 million to advance community policing is all in all a paltry sum relative to the scale of the issue and the amounts of money police departments are given by the state. Like his policy decisions in the past, these recent actions are indicators that Biden is out of touch with the need for truly revolutionary change to combat the existence of systemic racism.

Moreover, recent direct action against systemic racism has provided tangible results, after years of voting for candidates like Biden has failed. While the sincerity of this call will be seen in the coming years, the proposed dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Precinct responsible for the murder of George Floyd has seemingly demonstrated the effectiveness of civil disobedience and public protests. Statues of slave traders and racists have been toppled, and CEO’s of boards and corporations have stepped aside to let black leaders take over in response to the protests. In the space of a few months, civil disobedience has proved more beneficial to tackling aspects of racial inequality than years of voting in presidential elections.

This is undoubtedly going to be a very close election, decided by crucial swing states and the turnout of key demographics. Biden has the tough task of winning back such swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where black voters may be the deciding constituent. But while Democrats will be hoping that voters will come out for Biden through gritted teeth to prevent Trump from securing a second term, for many, Biden is the dinosaur leading an out of touch Democratic party unwilling to enact real change. When activists have a choice between “When the looting starts the shooting starts” versus “shoot ‘em in the leg instead of the heart”, it may be the case that many will not bother at all.

Joe Cush is a political science graduate, Young Fabian and Labour activist.

He tweets at @joe_cush

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