(Reuters) – More than 50 liberal groups have signed a letter to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, warning he could lose black voters’ support unless he commits to more transformative policing reforms.
Biden’s criminal justice agenda has drawn renewed attention following weeks of nationwide protests since George Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for minutes even after he appeared to pass out.
The letter, spearheaded by black organizations like Black Voters Matter, expressed disappointment in Biden’s proposal to provide $300 million to a federal community policing program, arguing that doing so would only exacerbate the problem of overpolicing.
“We are here to tell you, unequivocally, that that is NOT the answer,” the letter reads.
Floyd’s death galvanized demonstrations throughout the country, and triggered some around the world, over police mistreatment of minorities, a decades-old issue that has given rise in recent years to movements like Black Lives Matter.
Biden has proposed banning chokeholds by police officers, ending the militarization of police forces and making it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct, among other reforms. Congressional Democrats have introduced comprehensive legislation containing many of the same proposals.
But Biden has declined to support “defunding the police,” a phrase embraced by liberal activists in the wake of Floyd’s death that refers to redirecting police funds to other community needs such as affordable housing and education.
His opponent in November’s election, Republican President Donald Trump, has called for “law and order,” and encouraged states to “dominate” protesters with shows of force. He was expected to sign an executive order on Tuesday calling for modest changes, including better police training.
The letter urged Biden to do more than simply “make amends” for policies he favored in the past that they said have led to the mass incarceration of black Americans, including the 1994 crime bill he helped author.
Biden secured the Democratic nomination based in large part on his strength among black voters, but the letter warned Biden he cannot win without black voters’ “enthusiastic support” in November.
“A ‘return to normalcy’ will not suffice,” the groups wrote. “For too many black people, ‘normalcy’ has meant violence, discrimination, and fear.”
Asked for comment, the Biden campaign pointed to his speech on racial justice in Philadelphia, in which he laid out policing reforms and called on Congress to pass them without excuses or delays.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Bernadette Baum