Biden warned to focus on policing or lose Black voters

More than 50 politically left-of-centre groups in the United States 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, an unarmed Black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he appeared to pass out.

The letter, spearheaded by Black organisations like Black Voters Matter, expressed disappointment in Biden’s proposal to provide $300m to a federal community policing programme, arguing that doing so would only exacerbate the problem of over-policing.

“We are here to tell you, unequivocally, that that is NOT the answer,” the letter reads.

Floyd’s death galvanised 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 militarisation 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, was expected to sign an executive order on Tuesday calling for modest changes in policing policy, including better police training.

The letter urged Biden to do more than simply “make amends” for policies he favoured in the past that they said have led to the mass incarceration of Black Americans, including the 1994 crime bill he helped author.