During his first week in office, President Joe Biden has done what only two other presidents before him have done: push for equality. President Biden is focusing on issues of racial equity more than any other president since Lyndon Johnson, who cheered on civil rights activists and subsequently received a lot of criticism from conservatives. In President Biden’s inauguration speech, he pledged to defeat white supremacy throughout his four years in the White House.
This started on his first day in office; he used executive orders in order to advance “equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity,” which are “the responsibility of the whole of our government.” It is the government’s job to make sure everyone is being treated properly. I know the Constitution didn’t include people of color and women when it was first written, but it is 2021 and we are still Americans, like it or not. Human beings should be treated as such, and President Biden’s executive orders are a step in the right direction in reforming a system that is against people of color.
On Jan. 25, President Biden rolled out a variety of executive actions that address racial equity in response to the protests that happened after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minnesota police, and the resulting calls for racial justice in May of 2020. This is a move that President Biden had promised to fulfill during his campaign last summer at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, as President Biden said Floyd’s death “opened the eyes of millions” and paved the way for change. With this in mind, President Biden ordered that the Department of Justice can not renew contracts with private prison operators, and signed a presidential memorandum that recognizes the role the federal government has played in discriminatory housing policy. President Biden demands change for the U.S. government on their “whole approach” on racial equity because the nation is less secure due to systemic racism. This is a great start, but there is more that needs to be done in order to “solve” systemic racism in a country that was built on it.
President Biden’s executive order directs the Justice Department not to renew any federal contracts with private prisons, as he campaigned on eliminating the federal government’s use of private prisons. This is due to that fact that many private prisons are unsafe and inhumane, which is also part of the reason that President Biden wants to make sure incarceration levels go down. President Biden plans to make communities with high levels of incarceration safer by appointing the Justice Department to prioritize using the pattern-or-practice (when the evidence establishes that the discriminatory actions were the defendant’s regular practice, rather than an isolated instance) investigations to strengthen the justice system. This order does not apply to private prisons run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal agencies. This angers me for multiple reasons: many immigrants are being treated poorly in these prisons, women’s uteruses are being removed, and families are being separated. This executive order needs to be added onto ICE private prisons as well — not just regular federal prisons.
Although, this is the first step out of many in order to make communities safer, as over 14,000 federal inmates are in private prisons, and nine percent make up the total number of federal inmates. I can’t complain too much about this executive order, as it is helping many people from being held in unsafe conditions and from being mass incarcerated. Moreover, those who own stocks for these prisons profit off of those incarcerated and don’t care as they put federal inmates in unsafe living conditions. The Day 1 Alliance — a trade organization associated with private prisons — disagrees with President Biden’s executive order because they believe his efforts are misguided; “they actually play zero role” in creating these unsafe conditions. I believe this is false because private prisons are full of corruption. Not only are they bad for inmates, but they are bad for their employees, since they make at least $5,000 a year less than their government counterparts, who undergo 60 hours of training and receive a high salary. This means employees are not fully prepared for their jobs, which is overall bad for the inmates, and the reason the conditions of the prisons are so bad. The main goal of a private prison is to keep people in there for as long as they can to maximize their profits; they want more to be incarcerated, which leads to mass incarcerations in the system. For private prisons, it is profits before people.
The next executive action taken by President Biden was instructing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to reassess moves implemented under former President Donald Trump, as these undermined fair housing policies and laws. Part of President Biden’s executive order was having the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development assess the two rules that the Trump Administration implemented — one being how the cities assess and reduce segregation, which Trump thought was a way to get rid of suburbs. The second rule regarded discrimination policies in rental housings and mortage lending, which were not enforced under the Trump administraton. President Biden, in reversing Trump’s rules, gives more people the opportunity to own homes and stay off the streets, as President Biden is also trying to align the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing’” policy and the “disparate impact” doctrine. This could influence a rise in the number of Black homeowners in the future, as Black home ownership is the lowest it has been in the past 50 years.
Not only did President Biden put out an executive order on private prisons and housing, but on two other issues as well: recommitting the government to lifting up indegenious communities and tribes, and combating xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. President Biden reinstated a Clinton-era policy, which would mandate that all departments agency heads consult regularly with tribal officials on policy that affect and matter to indegenious communities. President Biden’s memorandum is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump’s administration’s racism and xenophobia, particularly when Trump called the coronavirus the “China virus” in an effort to blame the pandemic on the Chinese ruling government. As hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have risen since the start of the pandemic in 2019, this memorandum puts the Department of Health and Human Services in the direction to work with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from preventing hate crimes and harassment from happening in the future.
Overall, President Biden’s executive orders are in the right direction in fixing systemic racism in the U.S., but there is still a long way to go, especially for President Biden. He has a past of being a part of the problem. In 1994, President Biden was a huge supporter of The Crime Bill that led to an era of mass incarceration. He warned people of “predators on our streets…. We have no choice but to take them out of society.” To add, President Biden was a longtime advocate for the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights when he was senator, which makes investigating an officer for misconduct a lot harder than it should be. President Biden has said his experiences in the Senate is what helped him create his campaign and his executive orders, as he wants to correct all his wrongdoings from the past. President Biden admits, “You know I’ve been in this fight for a long time. It goes not just to voting rights. It goes to the criminal justice system,” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019, “I haven’t always been right. I know we haven’t always gotten things right, but I’ve always tried.” I’m glad that President Biden has acknowledged being a part of the problem that has incarcerated many people of color, and using his knowledge to reverse systemic racism.
President Biden is in the right direction in helping combat systemic racism, but I believe he needs to put a police reform that will start with building accountability and transparency. He should work to enforce the use of force policies (which prohibits neck holds, head strikes with a hard object, and using force against persons in handcuffs), banning broken windows policing, raising the age of those who can be in law enforcement to 21, and providing adequate training. These are only some of the things that need to be added to President Biden’s plan in order to end systemic racism within law enforcement, as police brutality is a major issue in this country that shouldn’t be; no one should die or be arrested due to the color of their skin. The only way it’s going to stop is by changing mindsets of people who are ignorant to believe that equity matters in a country that suppresses the rights of minorities. The executive orders from President Joe Biden are just the start in reforming a country that lives off of racism, and one way to fix it is by educating people on diversity and learning about the privileges you hold.
Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus