African Americans and the Democratic Presidency

The President and Congress Fail to Deliver on Key Issues

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By Abayomi Azikiwe

There can be no doubt that the African American electorate played a decisive role in the ascendancy of the current administration led by Democratic President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

During the early phase of the Democratic primaries in 2020, there was serious doubt as to whether the former Delaware Senator and Vice President under President Barack Obama could garner enough votes to take the lead from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

After the victory of Biden in key southern and midwestern states, he secured the necessary delegates to clinch the nomination. Yet there was no certainty that Biden could win against the then incumbent President Donald Trump who had upset former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Although Biden won the November elections by a sizable margin, a protracted struggle was necessary to ensure that millions of African Americans and other people of color would be able to cast their ballots. Massive efforts were undertaken by the Trump campaign to suppress the Democratic vote including the destabilization of the postal service, the purging of eligible people from electoral rolls and the insidious propaganda initiative which strongly asserted that if Trump did not win it would be a direct result of concerted fraud.

Even after the November elections, Republican legislators and pressure groups demanded the recounting of votes. Dozens of court challenges were launched which ultimately proved that there was no massive voter fraud in the presidential poll.

Biden and Harris acknowledged the role of Black voters in the November election. Biden was often quoted as saying with respect to African Americans: “You have always had my back and I have yours.”

However, of the key issues facing African Americans in 2021, almost nothing has been done by the administration and the majority Democratic House of Representatives and the Senate. Consequently, many Civil Rights organizations from the legacy groups to the grassroots, are openly criticizing the president and Congress for their ineffectiveness and inaction.

Since the defeat of Trump in November and the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, Republican-dominated state houses and governors are rapidly passing laws reminiscent of the era of legalized segregation (Jim Crow) which severely restrict the ability of Blacks to vote. States such as Arizona and Texas have already made preparations for large-scale voter suppression through the scaling back of mail-in-ballots availability, registration, the time periods in which people can cast their ballots and outlawing the delivery of food and water to voters waiting in line.

The Supreme Court upheld the voter suppression laws passed by the Arizona legislature in a landmark ruling on July 1. Under the guise of preventing non-existent voter fraud, these state governments are attempting to thwart those members of the electorate who vote against the conservative political candidates and their agenda.

An article by the Associated Press describing the actions taken by the Supreme Court during the summer said:

“The court’s 6-3 ruling upheld voting limits in Arizona that a lower court had found discriminatory under the federal Voting Rights Act. It was the high court’s second major decision in eight years that civil rights groups and liberal dissenting justices say weakened the Civil Rights-era law that was intended to eradicate discrimination in voting. The decision fueled new calls from Democrats to pass federal legislation, blocked by Senate Republicans, that would counter the new state laws. Some lawmakers and liberal groups also favor Supreme Court changes that include expanding the nine-justice bench.”

Biden said after the ruling that Congress needed to act in order to restore voting rights protections for African Americans. However, no bill has passed while the filibuster rule requires a 60-member Senate majority for significant legislation to be adopted into law.

Police-Community Relations and the Failure of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Another major issue during 2020 and 2021 which overshadowed all others was the blatant brutality and murder of African Americans by law-enforcement. The deaths at the hands of the police and vigilantes of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ma’khia Bryant and many others prompted widespread mass demonstrations and rebellions across the U.S.

Millions engaged in the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. and internationally. The murder of George Floyd sent shockwaves around the world and created the conditions for a United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Switzerland which discussed the racist treatment meted out against African Americans.

Yet despite this outpouring of righteous public indignation at the police, the Senate was unable to reach agreement on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. The family of George Floyd expressed their frustration at the inaction of the Senate which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans leaving a possible 51 majority vote with the intervention of Vice President Kamala Harris.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund in a statement on the failed legislation noted:

“In the 2020 election, voters came out in record numbers to support candidates who promised meaningful police accountability. We urge leaders at all levels of government, especially the 117th Congress and the Biden administration, to find pathways to advance policy measures that will hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct and transform policing practices and policies. We will continue to fight and advocate for legislation worthy of George Floyd’s name. That must include measures to end qualified immunity; prohibit racial profiling; strengthen the ability of the Department of Justice to bring criminal civil rights actions against officers; create a national registry of police misconduct complaints; end the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement; and restrict funds to law enforcement agencies that do not prohibit the use of chokeholds and other restrictive maneuvers. To meet this moment, we demand transformative change that will keep our families and communities safe and end the systemic racism that permeates our criminal legal system.”

This legislation aimed at providing some protection for civilians from police abuse was a minimal bill and in no way would have satisfied the demands for the defunding and abolition of police. Apparently, it will take more demonstrations and social unrest to bring this question back to the halls of the U.S. Senate.

Economic Security and Foreign Policy

A federal eviction moratorium was passed by the U.S. Congress during 2020 as a temporary measure in a pandemic to halt the potential for millions to be thrown out of their homes. When this order expired, the administration of former President Donald Trump utilized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to declare a moratorium on evictions based upon the grave threat displacement poses for public health. The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging throughout the U.S. particularly since the emergence of the Delta variant of the virus.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late August that the CDC moratorium reached beyond the actual authority of the agency to impose. The Court said that in order for the measures to be legal it would require an act of Congress.

Here again, Congress has failed to take the necessary action. Newly elected Black Congresswoman from Missouri, Cory Bush, staged her own protest demanding that the House and Senate pass the necessary legislation to protect working people and the poor still impacted by the pandemic.

In addition, the extension of additional unemployment benefits has expired, placing an even larger burden upon millions. Many Black and Brown people will be disproportionately impacted by the lifting of the eviction moratorium and the withdrawal of jobless benefits.

Real estate firms and landowners claim that the moratoriums are detrimental to their constituents. The Supreme Court with its conservative majority sided with the landlords leaving millions under the threat of homelessness. Although $50 billion in rent relief has been allocated by the federal government through the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program, states and municipalities have failed to process most of the applications of those seeking help.

In Detroit, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition launched a month-long campaign demanding that the hundreds of millions sent to the city and the state be immediately spent on those in need of assistance. A series of press conferences, rallies and meetings with public agencies has had some impact in slowing down the eviction process in the 36th District Court.

Earlier in September, media outlets reported that only 26% of the funds allocated had been dispersed to eligible renters and landlords. This phenomenon is part of a national pattern.

In regard to foreign policy, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan has been welcomed within the African American community ending a 20-year war that resulted in thousands of deaths among service people and far more Afghan civilians. Nevertheless, the Biden administration’s handling of the surge in Haitian migrants coming across the southern border from Central and South America has sparked outrage and demonstrations.

Biden did admit the errors committed in handling the crisis where federal immigration Border Patrol agents were seen riding on horseback while beating migrants carrying food and supplies for their families. Reports indicate that 4,000 migrants have already been deported back to Haiti where many had not lived for more than a decade. Thousands more were given “notices to appear” within 60 days before an immigration court.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) met with Biden on September 22 on the Haitian migrant situation. A report published by NPR emphasized:

“CBC Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) told reporters after the meeting at the White House with senior adviser and former CBC member Cedric Richmond and domestic policy adviser and former ambassador Susan Rice that the group immediately highlighted the now-viral pictures that to many observers looked like they were from another era. ‘We were very concerned, as we looked at the process, we want those [agents] that were identified suspended; we want to halt that process,’ Beatty said.’”

Undoubtedly these contradictions will continue to unfold in the weeks and months to come. African Americans, Latinx people, immigrant rights organizations, labor and housing advocates must build an independent movement to pursue these issues in a disciplined and militant fashion.

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