US Election 2020 Key Issues: Crime, law and order, and where Trump and Biden stand

Just like like Donald Trump, Joe Biden does not support defunding the police. But, in sharp contrast to Trump’s vision, Biden promises to eliminate the death penalty

US Election 2020 Key Issues: Crime, law and order, and where Trump and Biden stand

Representational image. AP

In the days and weeks following the killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by a White police officer in Minnesota in May, protests erupted across the United States demanding racial justice. A fraction of these protests turned violent, with protestors accused of rioting and looting.

This was enough to push the narrative away from racial inequality and towards the lack of — and need for — law and order in American cities. Since then, issues of crime and law enforcement have featured in almost all election campaigns in this year’s presidential race.

Data show that violent crime is on the rise in the biggest American cities. According to statistics compiled by crime data analyst Jeff Asher, murders in the United States have become more frequent by 26 percent since 2019 in 25 major cities. In the last year, murders have increased in 19 of these 25 cities while violent crime is up in 12. In contrast, property crimes in these cities are down by over 7 percent. This trend represents crime in cities with both Democratic and Republican governors.

However, the presidential candidates — Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden — will have one believe that the crime rate (and law and order matters in general) will deteriorate sharply under the other’s watch.

“Joe Biden and his supporters remained completely silent about the rioters and criminals spreading mayhem in Democrat-run cities,” Trump charged during his speech at the Republican National Convention in August. Vice-President Mike Pence echoed his boss’ words, saying, “The hard truth is you will not be safe in Joe Biden’s America… Law and order are on the ballot.”

Biden, predictably, has returned the favour and accused the president of being weak on crime. “Donald Trump may believe mouthing the words law and order makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows you how weak he is,” Biden said in a tweet. “Donald Trump isn’t a law and order president. He’s a president who breaks the law and creates disorder.”

Where Trump stands

Amid protests over police brutality and racial justice across the United States, Trump responded by urging a militaristic crackdown using federal law enforcement officials and use of troops, in addition to asking governors to “dominate”.

In June, the president signed an executive order on police reform that increased federal grants for police departments that implement training on use of force, banned the use of chokeholds except in exceptional circumstances, and called for further legislation on the use of force by the police. The move came under criticism for not completely banning the use of chokeholds.

Trump, however, refused to heed calls to “defund the police”, where citizens asked the government to reallocate police funding to other government agencies to bring about systemic social change. “Americans know the truth: Without police there is chaos, without law there is anarchy, and without safety there is catastrophe,” he said.

In 2018, Trump passed the First Step Act, a bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences, improve conditions in federal prisons and expand drug treatment programmes for inmates.

However, for Trump’s second term, he has called for increasing penalties for assaults on police officers. The president has also supported other “tough-on-crime” policies, including seeking to resume executions of federal death row prisoners after a 16-year hiatus. Trump also wishes to “keep dangerous criminals locked up until trial”, and end the provision of bail without cash.

Where Biden stands

Accusing the Trump administration of lax oversight of police departments that are seen to be using excessive force, Biden and the Democratic camp plan to make fundamental changes to policing norms and the criminal justice system.

The former vice-president pledges to create a $20 billion competitive grant programme to encourage states to “shift from incarceration to prevention”. With the goal of systematically reducing crime, this programme will address factors such as education, mental health and substance use. To receive this funding, states will have to fulfil certain criteria such as doing away with mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes.

If elected, Biden pledges to use the resources of the United States Justice Department to deal with “systemic misconduct” in police departments and prosecutors’ offices. He also plans to increase federal funding towards public defenders’ offices to ensure defendants’ access to quality defence counsel.

In sharp contrast to Trump’s vision, Biden promises to eliminate the death penalty and end the provision of cash bail, calling the latter the “modern-day debtor’s prison”. He would use his clemency powers to secure the release of prisoners sentenced for non-violent or drug crimes. He also plans to support formerly incarcerated people by providing all of them housing upon finishing a sentence, in addition to providing them mental health, education and job support after incarceration.

However, like Trump, Biden does not support defunding the police. Instead, Biden plans to invest $300 million to resume the Community Oriented Policing Services programme which focusses on community policing. “We don’t have to defund police departments. We have to make sure they meet minimum basic standards of decency,” he said.

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