ACLU Statement on Biden’s “Safer America Plan”

July 21, 2022 5:30 pm

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WASHINGTON — Today President Biden announced a plan to fund programs intended to make America “safer.” The president’s plan proposes investments in two competing approaches to this goal. The first is to hire more police officers and call for more criminalization and incarceration. For decades, this approach has failed to make us safer and it is alarmingly reminiscent of 1990s style policies that fueled mass incarceration. The second approach, however, is to significantly invest in community-based programs and services that have proven to prevent violent crime and can make America safer for everyone. This is the approach that we need to embrace in 2022 to create thriving communities.

Yasmin Cader, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director and director of the Trone Center for Justice and Equality, said in response:

“President Biden rightly states that to achieve safety for all communities we need greater investment in social services, and we need to make the criminal legal system more fair. Shifting our focus to crime prevention through supportive services is an important development.

“President Biden announced several measures that would put us on the right path. The plan includes investments in education, housing, and job training, and proposes lifting barriers to reentry for formerly incarcerated people. These measures would effectively promote stability and prevent violence. He also seeks to put safety in the hands of those best suited to address the acute problems created when societal failures leave people and communities behind: social workers, crisis intervention workers, and violence interrupters. By investing in alternatives to policing, including alternative responses to behavioral health calls, the president demonstrates that he understands the need to adopt preventive approaches to keep people and neighborhoods safe.

“However, in this moment of fear and concern, the president must not repeat yesterday’s mistakes today. He calls for hiring 100,000 additional state and local police officers – the same increase in officers as the 1994 crime bill. This failed strategy did not make America safer, instead it resulted in massive over-policing and rampant rights violations in our communities. Moreover, Biden’s plan does not articulate a specific proposal to ensure that both existing and new officers are accountable to the public and consistently respect individuals’ constitutional rights. And while it is important that the president’s plan commits to fixing the racist sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, it regrettably also perpetuates the war on drugs by calling for harsh new penalties for fentanyl offenses.

“While we are pleased with the president’s commitment to investing in communities, we strongly urge him not to repeat the grave errors of the 1990s — policies that exacerbated racial disparities, contributed to widespread police abuses, and created our current crisis of mass incarceration.”

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