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Opinion | Can America Reform Policing and Fight Crime at the Same Time?

As then-senator Joe Biden said during a speech on the floor:

“We must take back the streets. It doesn’t matter whether or not the person that is accosting your son or daughter or my son or daughter — my wife, your husband; my mother, your parents — it doesn’t matter whether or not they were deprived as a youth. It doesn’t matter whether or not they had no background that enabled them to become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the victims of society. The end result is they’re about to knock my mother on the head with a lead pipe, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take it on my sons. So, I don’t want to ask what made them do this.”

The 1994 crime bill would have disproportionate and disastrous effects on the Black community by contributing to mass incarceration.

When then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was championing and defending the Police Department’s discriminatory stop-and-frisk program, which overwhelmingly targeted Blacks and Hispanics, he framed it as a way of saving Black people’s lives.

Before a Black congregation at a Brooklyn church in 2012, Bloomberg declared that “We are not going to walk away from a strategy that we know saves lives.” As the A.C.L.U. of New York pointed out, in the previous year, more than 685,000 people were stopped, and “nearly 9 out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent.”

Now we are at another crossroads: After last summer’s protests elicited lofty commitments to change, the country is once again considering police reforms against the backdrop of crime.

But the negotiations in Congress over federal police reform legislation have already collapsed. Democrats — including former President Barack Obama and the strategist James Carville — have expressed their disapproval of the slogan “Defund the Police,” while President Biden said in July that “We need more policemen, not fewer policemen.”

The pandemic has been attended by massive trauma — in lost lives, and lost jobs, as well as the prospect of lost homes and the lingering effects of a lost year that children couldn’t spend in school. Black people have been hit particularly hard by these upheavals. Some of that trauma is pouring out onto the street, sometimes in the form of violence.

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