Law and Order Democrats: 1990s Party Attitudes Publicly Reemerge

President Joe Biden in 1994, an influential voice in sweeping crime legislation that targeted black Americans (Source: New York Times)

Since the January 6th attack on the U.S. capital by armed white supremacists, Democrats and left leaning moderate platforms have responded by attempting to stake claim as the ‘new party of law and order’. Appeal to white liberal moderates is not surprising, but is another clear example of the Democratic party’s willingness to sideline the Black Lives Matter Movement. We are seeing the shameless exploitation of black voters and a return to the democratic party of the 1990s, which oversaw the proliferation of private prisons, mass incarceration of black and brown people, and encouragement of aggressive policing harassment.

For Biden, being ‘tough on crime’ is a comfortable political stance that plays into his agenda of moderate unification. Biden was instrumental in the write up of the 1994 Crime Act and has made efforts for decades to strengthen the link between the Democratic party and law enforcement. While many white liberals are eager for a ‘return’ to normalcy in American politics, they are really pushing for an escape from white guilt and to move black issues to the periphery. If the Democratic party’s response to the insurrection is a battle about who upholds law and order in the United States, we will continue to be stuck in this vicious cycle of inaction. Backing the police would support the underlying motive of sustaining white supremacy that brought rioters to the Capital.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that black liberation’s greatest challenge is not the Ku Klux Klan, “but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.” Performative allyship will always be a barrier to abolition. The Democratic Party’s real interests lie in the preservation of power hierarchies, in which police institutions are a vital part of the formula.

A return to Democratic party attitudes of ‘tough on crime,’ would be detrimental to the discourse inspired by BLM activism. In the aftermath of the Capital Riot, Democrats have called for the expansion of internal security apparatuses to address “domestic terrorism”. Increasing police budgets as a response to this insurrection will only fuel a racist system that disproportionately affects people of color. We must be wary of the facade that police institutions would target white supremacy, because that would entail releasing the guillotine that hangs over their own head. The FBI cannot dismantle white supremacy and increasing their capacity would only increase surveillance on black and brown people. Giving law enforcement more resources is not the answer to fighting insurrectionists. We must realize this and counter any party efforts to support security institutions that were founded to control people of color.

We also must not conform movements such as Defund the Police to appease white moderates. In fact, this moment more than ever displays the need to abolish policing institutions. Not only was there an undeniable contrast in response to the insurrection versus BLM protests, but sworn officers from around the country were involved in storming the Capital. The intersection between white supremacist militias and the police is deeply rooted and cannot be addressed without ripping the whole system apart.

Abolition does not mean the elimination of justice. As Dr. Angela Davis teaches, abolition is the re-imagination of institutions to challenge the criminalization of mental health issues, the occupation of marginalized neighborhoods, and it means prioritizing black voices in a country that was built on anti-blackness. Finally, Defunding the police is only the first step in a long term solution of ending sponsored violence against black communities. The United States has been defunding public education and health care for years without much public pushback. The problem is not the slogan’s verbiage, but that liberals are intimidated by black activism and threats to their institutional privilege. Labeling Defund the Police as ‘aggressive’ is just a product of racist tropes that have been used to delegitimize black voices.

Just to remind representatives, it was black women who flipped the state of Georgia blue and not white moderates or police unions. BLM activism mobilized black Americans to the polls this past election year. These black Americans, who were essential to Democrat success did not vote for the party of law and order. Defunding the police encouraged many black Georgians to vote, as well as rhetoric around the redistribution of resources, black agency, and black joy.

We must keep the Democratic party accountable to their promises of addressing systemic racism. While the winning ticket should have acknowledged their intimate role in institutions that uphold white supremacy before taking office , Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the whole party must atone for past policy atrocities. A public reemergence of 1990s racist Democrat values would be catastrophic for the BLM movement. Again, to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to combat his white-washed image of passivity, we must commit to radical change. On this day marking the inauguration of a new executive, there has never been a greater need for the abolishment of fundamentally racist institutions.

More Resources:

Angela Davis on Defunding the Police | DemocracyNow

Pedagogy and the Decolonizing | Quetzala Carson | Tedx

On WEB DuBois’ Black Reconstruction in the United States | Leilani Dowell | Workers World Party