United States President Joe Biden said that instead of defunding the police, a main demand of the protest movement that erupted last year following the death of a Black man in police custody, he would put more money into local policing.
During a televised town hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Tuesday night, Biden outlined the improvements he hopes to make to criminal justice and policing in the country.
Floyd’s death on May 25 last year ignited protests against police brutality led by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, with calls for abolishing or defunding the police raised, not just for Floyd, but for many Black Americans killed by law enforcement officers.
Some Democrats had pushed for reviews of local police budgets after Floyd’s death, calling for the diversion of funding to social and mental health services.
BLM activists say the demand is not about eliminating police departments or stripping agencies of all of their money, rather, it is a call for the country to address systemic problems in policing and spend more on what communities need, such as housing and education.
When asked how US law enforcement could protect citizens in high-crime neighbourhoods while training officers to police compassionately, Biden answered: “By, number one, not defunding the police.
“We have to put more money for this to work so we have legitimate community policing, and we are in a situation where we can change the legislation,” he added.
On the campaign trail last year, Biden promised to invest $300m in a programme that gives grants to hire more diverse officers and trains them to develop less adversarial relationships with communities. He had supported redirecting some police funding to address mental health or to change the prison system.
He also reiterated another campaign promise on Tuesday, ending jail sentences for drug use alone.
“No one should go to jail for a drug offence. No one should go to jail for the use of a drug, they should go to drug rehabilitation,” he said.
“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,” Biden added. “Conversely, every kid walking across the street wearing a hoodie is not a member of a gang and about to knock somebody off.”
Tuesday’s visit, as well as a trip scheduled for Thursday that will take Biden to a vaccine manufacturing site in the state of Michigan, offered the Democrat president an opportunity to tout the importance of a new relief bill even as Republicans remain largely opposed to its massive price tag.
Biden wants Congress to pass the legislation in the coming weeks in order to get $1,400 stimulus checks out to Americans and bolster unemployment payments.
Some aspects of the bill, including Biden’s push to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, may have a difficult time gaining enough support to pass.
After a small business owner raised concerns at Tuesday’s town hall, Biden suggested he might be willing to consider a more gradual phase-in.