Calls for defunding the police have rung loud and clear after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, strengthening the Black Lives Matter movement as U.S. citizens question where we go from here. As the 2020 election draws near, defunding the police will be a crucial issue as people decide how to cast their vote. So, where do Vice President Joe Biden and running mate Senator Kamala Harris stand on this issue? Here, we break down exactly what they've said thus far in regard to defunding the police.
What Have Biden and Harris Said on Defunding the Police?
On June 8, Vice President Biden's campaign issued a statement that made clear he does not support defunding the police in wake of widespread reports of police brutality. Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Vice President Biden's campaign, clarified that "as his criminal justice proposal made clear months ago, Vice President Biden does not believe that police should be defunded."
However, he did clarify in the same statement that Vice President Biden supports the "urgent need for reform, including funding for public schools, summer programs, and mental health and substance abuse treatment separate from funding for policing, so that officers can focus on the job of policing." On July 8, Biden affirmed his stance on reform, telling reporters, "we don't have to defund the police departments, we have to make sure they meet minimum basic standards of decency," according to reporting in The Associated Press.
In an interview with CBS, Biden elaborated on this point, stating that he does not support defunding police, but that he does support "conditioning federal aid to police, based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness. And, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community."
On Twitter, Biden has called for "real police reform," asking supporters to demand that Congress pass a ban on chokeholds:
We have to make this an era of action — starting with real police reform. No more excuses. No more delays.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 11, 2020
Add your name to demand Congress ban chokeholds — and pass real police reform — right now: https://t.co/Sa6sPy2BtS
Even more recently, in his October 15 town hall with ABC, while Biden once again said "we shouldn't be defunding cops," he did emphasize the need for community policing and total transparency and talked about his plan for addressing the systemic problems in policing: "One of the things I'm going to do . . . is set up a national study group made up of cops and social workers as well as made up of the Black community and the brown community to sit down at the White House and over the next year come up with significant reforms that need to take place within communities." He continued, saying "there has to be transparency available, we have to be able to at the federal level go in and be able to check out if there is systematic problems within police departments." Biden then reaffirmed his stance on banning chokeholds, and talked about the need to teach de-escalation practices, especially in cases that involve mental illness: "That's why we have to provide within police departments psychiatric psychologist and social workers who go out with the cops on those calls, some of those 911 calls. To de-escalate the circumstance," he said.
On her end, Sen. Harris has also expressed her desire for reform, making her stance clear in an interview on The View. When asked about police defunding and police reform, Sen. Harris stated that the answer truly lies in "reimagining how we do public safety in America, which I support." She continued, "We have confused the idea that to achieve safety you put more cops on the street instead of understanding to achieve safe and healthy communities, you put more resources into the public education system of those communities, into affordable housing, into home ownership, into access to capital for small businesses, into access to healthcare." Harris also made clear that her stance also involves the "mental health issues that communities are being plagued with for which we're putting no resources."
More recently, Sen. Harris addressed police reform during the Vice Presidential debate, saying, "We need reform of our policing in America and our criminal justice system. Which is why Joe Biden and I will immediately ban chokeholds and karate holds . . . We will require a national registry for police officers who break the law. We will, on the issue of criminal justice reform, get rid of private prisons and cash bail. And we will decriminalize marijuana, and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana possession. This is a time for leadership on a tragic, tragic issue of unarmed black people in America being killed."
Harris on Breonna Taylor and George Floyd: ‘We always must fight for the values that we hold dear … we need reform of policing in America and our criminal justice system’ #VPDebate pic.twitter.com/DUANlAKKdL— NowThis (@nowthisnews) October 8, 2020
Harris has also been vocal on Twitter in regard to the Black Lives Matter movement, justice for Breonna Taylor, and reforming the justice system, including no-knock warrants (a search warrant authorizing police to enter premises without knocking first):
Tonight, I’m thinking of Breonna Taylor’s family who is still grieving the loss of a daughter and sister.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) September 24, 2020
We must never stop speaking Breonna’s name as we work to reform our justice system, including overhauling no-knock warrants.
Although Harris's long career in law enforcement has a record of avoiding intervening in cases that involved killings by police, as Vice President Biden's running mate, she has made firm her stance on reforming the police system through being a staunch supporter of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which prohibits all law enforcement from racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling, mandates antiprofiling training for all law enforcement, bans chokeholds, carotid holds, and no-knock warrants by officers, and more.
What Are Biden and Harris's Plans For Police Reform?
Apart from the above mentioned plan to fund public schools and community programs in order to take certain pressures off police departments, and possibly condition federal aid depending on meeting soon-to-be-defined "standards of decency," Biden has expressed he does not think police forces need military equipment. During an interview with activist Ady Barkan, Biden said "The last thing you need is an up-armored Humvee coming into a neighborhood." He continued, "It's like the military invading. They don't know anybody. They become the enemy. They're supposed to be protecting these people."
Even from much before he became the Democrats' chosen nominee, Vice President Biden's criminal justice agenda proposed more federal money for "training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths" and hiring more officers to make sure police are racially and ethnically reflective of the people they serve. It also calls for $300 million to be put into federal community policing grant programs, which some argue may actually increase the number of police officers in Black and brown communities. However, as Bates said in the campaign's June 8 statement, Biden's priority is to "improve relationships between officers and residents."
Their campaign website also lays out a detailed plan for addressing criminal justice reform, including reducing the number of people incarcerated, rooting out racial, gender-, and income-based disparities in the criminal justice system, and focusing criminal justice on redemption and rehabilitation. The site also states that Vice President Biden plans to "counter the rise in hate crimes" and "reinvigorate community-oriented policing."