Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden issued a warning.
President Joe Biden: Crime historically rises during the summer. As we emerge from this pandemic, for the country opening back up again, traditional summer spike may be more pronounced than it usually would be.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Facing pressure to respond to the rise in violent crime and homicides, the President met with a group of mayors this week and then gave a speech outlining his agenda for addressing crime, including stricter enforcement of gun laws.
President Joe Biden: Today, the department is announcing as an adjusted the major crackdown on stem the flow of guns used to commit violent crimes. It's zero tolerance for gun dealers who willfully violate key existing laws and regulations. I repeat, zero tolerance.
Melissa Harris-Perry: More support for violence intervention programs
President Joe Biden: These are local programs that utilize trusted messengers, community members and leaders to work directly with people who are most likely to commit gun crimes or become victims of gun crimes.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Increased support for law enforcement.
President Joe Biden: The city's experienced an increase in gun violence. We're able to use the American Rescue Plan dollars to hire police officers needed for community policing and to pay their overtime. Mayors will also be able to buy crime-fighting technologies like gunshot detection systems to better see and stop gun violence in their communities.
Melissa Harris-Perry: See it's on this last issue that many members of Biden's own party may have an issue. While many of the most progressive members of the Democratic Party have been calling for resources to be diverted from police departments and towards social services, the President has stood behind his views that law enforcement is a key part of the solution to keeping communities safe. As other journalists have pointed out these calls bring to mind when President Biden attempted to address violent crime in the US as a Senator.
President Joe Biden: This president is very, very straightforward and simple. He knows there are two basic steps here. One step is you must take back the streets, and you take back the streets by more cops, more prisons, more physical protection for the people.
Melissa Harris-Perry: If you don't recognize is this voice, that is Biden speaking on the Senate floor back in 1993, but while campaigning for president, Biden admitted the parts of the 1986 and 1994 crime bills that he helped to write were mistakes. Including mandatory minimums for drug-related offenses, which led to major racial disparities in sentencing. Now, one year after last summer's racial justice uprisings, Biden and other Democrats are returning to other components of those decades-old crime bills, like hiring more police officers and talking about zero tolerance.
Are these law enforcement measures doomed to fail again? What is the political strategy here? Joining me now to answer that and more is Andrea Headley Assistant Professor at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy and Visiting Scholar of Policing, Race, and Crime at the National Police Foundation. Andrea, welcome to The Takeaway.
Andrea Headley: Thank you for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Also, with us is Jonathan Allen political reporter for NBC News. Jonathan, great to have you here as well.
Jonathan Allen: It's great to be here, Dr. Harris-Perry.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Professor Headley, I want to start with you. I just want to make sure that when we're talking about violent crime, we're all on the same page about what it is we are seeing here. We're hearing that there's a spike. Can you tell me where we're seeing an increase in crime and what kind of crime we're seeing an increase in?
Andrea Headley: That's a great question. Specifically, we have seen an increase in homicides like gun violence, more particularly. While there has been small increases in other types of violent crime, for instance, thinking about robbery, assault, it's much smaller increases. Really, when people are referring to this spike, again, it's thinking about the homicides and murders, the gun violence, but I have to caveat that with historically, we are still at a pretty low-level of violent crime and murders, in particular, if we think back to the 1990s.
Although we are seeing this spike from 2020 in particular. In terms of actually looking at where it's happening, while we have seen increases across the United States, we are seeing particular increases again in the big cities, in the cities that have historically been plagued by this that are under-resourced, disinvested in large populations of color and so forth.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Thank you. I appreciate you putting that into context for us a little bit that we're seeing an increase now, but we're still talking about a national murder rate of about five murders per 100,000 people. Just to put that in context, COVID has killed 183 Americans per every 100,000 people. Jonathan, this is not only a crime crisis, a governing crisis, it's a political crisis for President Biden, isn't it?
Jonathan Allen: Absolutely. There's probably nothing that's a more effective political advertisement for your opponents than a rise in crime during your term. President Trump saw the beginnings of this rising crime. The Democrats didn't really hammer him on it, but they were busy defending themselves, Biden out there saying that he wasn't going to defund and disband police departments back in the 2020 election.
I think Biden has always been very attuned to the politics of crime and criminal justice. That is as true today as it ever was, and that's I think why you're seeing him focus on this before Republicans get a chance to get a full head of steam going against him and portray him as the president of rising crime.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All of those of us who live in swing states were bombarded with messages that a Biden America would be in an unsafe America. It has been fascinating to watch how we're now talking about what's going on around violent crime. Jonathan, I'm going to come back to you on this a bit because, yes, the President is clearly attuned to this politically. Part of what he's talking about and asking states to do, encouraging them to do is to use money from the American Rescue Plan that's already kind of gone out to address these root causes of crime. What would that look like in practice in states and cities?
Jonathan Allen: 1994 called, and-
-they want their crime legislation back.
Andrea Headley: I'm sorry.
Jonathan Allen: [chuckles] It's really not the same as the '94 Crime Bill, but, but some of the solutions here match that and increase in funding for police departments rather than the federal government saying, "We're going to give you money here for hiring seven police officers, or we're going to give you money in the old days." It was, "We'll give you more money if you build more prisons that Biden has kind of done away with," but what they're doing is saying, "Look, the money in the American Rescue Plan that went to states and local governments can be used for police."
Which gives Biden some protection from political attacks that he's defunding because he's in fact funding, and then each of the jurisdictions can decide on their own.
The other pieces that we're seeing here are money for intervention. Some of the things that as this debate has evolved over time, some of the things that people who want to "defund the police" are actually asking for, what they would have wanted before was to shift money from cops on the beat toward intervention programs, toward mental health counseling, those kinds of things.
Instead, what this bill does is it will provide more money to hire police and also, provide a lot more money for I guess the best possible term for it is wraparound services. I always think back to 1994 and the debate over midnight basketball, I don't know if you remember that?
Melissa Harris-Perry: I remember it very well. Look, actually let's go to those two. We're going to use midnight basketball as a just standard-bearer here. Andrea, walk me through those two pieces, more cops on the beat and then night basketball as sort of things to resource. What does your research tell us about how additional spending on either of those two kind of buckets impacts crime rates?
Andrea Headley: What the research shows about policing and the impact with crime rates there is that more cops on the streets can matter for reducing crime generally. That said, we also know that police don't actually spend much of their time on crime prevention. More often, their time is spent responding to calls for service, and the impacts that we do see with regards to crime reductions from police is really not consistent across all cities. Really, the cities with the largest populations of black people don't have those same crime reduction benefits.
We also know that, with that, comes a lot of the harms associated with policing presence. It's really about the types of strategies that they're employing when they're policing communities. Are you doing [unintelligible 00:10:02] question and freeskiing? Are you engaging in problem-solving with partnerships in the community? Those are very different approaches and so that matters. With regards to the other bucket, though, thinking about while not necessarily midnight basketball specifically, but thinking about wraparound services, there is a good body of research that shows that there are so many other ways that we can also reduce crime.
There's comprehensive approaches from thinking about providing social services, to hospital-based intervention programs, [unintelligible 00:10:35] programs, the importance of nonprofits, and community stability overall. All of these things have been shown effective in reducing crime. For me, it's really about thinking about the trade-offs between strategies, thinking about what police are actually doing when they're going to be hired, when they're going to be in these neighborhoods and how to reduce those harms, while also really amping up the community-based interventions.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I feel like you've laid out for us a couple of, again, big buckets or sets of ideas that are deeply complex. One is, what is it that police are actually doing during their time? What do they spend their time doing, and is that connected to these actual questions of what we might think of a street violence, but I think also, what the midnight basketball conversation always brought to mind, was a set of questions about who is committing crime.
The notion around midnight basketball, even if it was implicit, is that its young Black men who simply have nothing else to do and end up spending their time engaging in violence. Jonathan, let me come to you on this, as mayors who might be a little bit closer obviously to their cities and to what is happening than the federal government, how have you seen them acting relative to this spike, again, on our buckets of addressing what police are doing with their time, and what young people are doing with heir time.
Jonathan Allen: They all have very different responses to this. If you live in New York, it's one response, if you live in Chicago, it's another, if you live in Detroit, it's a third. I think that they are confused, or maybe confused is the wrong word, but a little bit at a loss for what it is they can do to control crime. From my reading and the professors probably better to talk about this, but from my reading, it's not entirely clear why we have major surges, or why crime falls precipitously, but it's probably not as related to the politicians as the politicians would like to think.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Andrea, let me come to you, as Jonathan was saying, it could be that these crime rates rising and falling have less to do with politicians than they imagine. Talk to me about what it may have to do with relative to communities. In particular, I guess I'm thinking the trauma, the loss, the distress that so many communities are feeling economically and socially in the wake of the pandemic, is that part of what's going on here, or do we have any evidence about that?
Andrea Headley: I think you really did hit it on the head, and I agree totally with Jonathan's point. While we don't have clear indications of what always causes crime at a specific time point, we do know, historically and from recently, that the economic instability, the devastation, the loss of connection with people, the shutting down of community-based institutions, and people feeling like they can't rely on the government during the pandemic because of a lot of the devastation that happens, has definitely had tolls on communities at large, and then specific neighborhoods have experienced those impacts much more than others.
We do know that a lot of those community factors are related to places where we'd have historically seen increases in crime. There is a lot when we think about the community characteristics, but also the experiences that the community is going through and the trauma, as you say, that leads to people committing crime or engaging in criminal behavior because they, whether it's they're not feeling they have another alternative, leading to not trust criminal justice institutions and so relying on other measures or what have you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jonathan, we've talked a little bit here about the president, we've talked a little bit about communities at a bit about mayors, but what about Congress? They're the ones who are going to be up for reelection in mass very soon, what have we been hearing from Democrats and Republicans about how they may be thinking about this rise in violent crime impacting them politically?
Jonathan Allen: They've certainly seen some efforts on Capitol hill and they mirror what's going on with this transportation and infrastructure bill in that there's now a description of a framework and maybe at some point they'll fill in all the details in terms of policing reform, and some of that side of it. What you're not hearing a lot of in Congress is what I would describe as prescriptive efforts to really address the core causes of crime.
Everybody's aware of it. You'll hear Republicans this all ramp up over time if the violent crime statistics stay where they are, they'll hit Biden for it, they'll hit the Democrats in Congress for it, and maybe at some point the Democrats in one chamber or the other will try to pass legislation to address it so they can go home and say that they pass legislation to address it.
I think largely what they look at from the federal level is are they providing the resources to the mayors and to the governors to to be able to do policing and some of these community intervention steps in the ways that they would like? I think you heard the president talk about that the other day certainly in the stuff that administration officials were saying around his announcement that some of these programs will, maybe the right way to look at it as a thousand flowers for whatever you are, each one will be catered to its own community and maybe they can learn something from that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jonathan, you named check the infrastructure package, do you want to just give us a beat on that? Just give us a quick beat on that, because clearly, that is the other big piece working its way through these sets of political relationships.
Jonathan Allen: They are trying to build a route through the Alps, and they've laid down a couple of bricks and perhaps have a blueprint, but they are a long way from getting an infrastructure package done particularly with President Biden saying yesterday that he won't sign that bill unless he gets a sidecar that has all the other pieces that he wants in there in terms of climate change and monies for elder and childcare. I don't think that's going to be a problem for him because if he doesn't get both bills, he's not going to get one [unintelligible 00:17:10].
There's really little margin for error for the Democrats, and right now, I think you would have to look at what's going on and conclude that even if they are able to get both of them that they would rely on some Republican support in the Senate to get it done and that may or rote as this battle gets more pitched and as a speaker, Nancy, well, as he tries to figure out what can get through her chamber, she's only got, I think, four votes she can lose and still pass bills. This is not as straightforward as an emergency supplemental spending bill to address COVID-19 with vaccines even though that carried a lot of other items in it, that was a lot easier sell. I think. than transportation bill.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Professor Headley, let me come to you on this because as I'm listening to Jonathan within the connections between both the 1994 Crime Bill questions, these new questions about both infrastructure and crime and what's happening in our communities and cities, I'm just reminded that it feels like there was a time then Americans' willingness to spend in order to address root causes of our collective suffering may have been different.
I'm thinking post or during World War II, coming out of the depression. Right now, as you're looking at our landscape, are there generational divides between how Black and brown elders and young people are thinking about both what the problem is and what the solutions are?
Andrea Headley: I definitely think there are differences in how Black and brown people, although not a monolithic group across generations and differences, examine this. Often, I feel like the questions that we're asking usually just rely on policing or incarceration as the only alternative. When we examine that often, we see that there are people who usually just still then favor, yes, we want more police, we want safer streets, et cetera.
Whereas I think what we see with the younger groups is that they are really thinking beyond that question, can we really envision something that we haven't had in the past? I think that's really where the differences come in, but the similarity is that everyone wants safety. Everyone wants community safety, and it's just about trying to provide the best alternative for the community that's seeking that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Andrea Hedley is an assistant professor at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy and Visiting Scholar of Policing, Race, and Crime at the National Police Foundation and Jonathan Allen, a political reporter for NBC news. Thank you, both, for joining me.
Jonathan Allen: Thank you.
Andrea Headley: Thank you.
[00:19:51] [END OF AUDIO]
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