By Mia Machado
BROOKLYN, NY – Comparing police accountability to peanut butter, social-justice activist and author Shaun King calls on President Biden to amplify the momentum around criminal justice reform, to end the unjust systems that Biden imagined and constructed himself.
Following the recent conviction of former Officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, Shaun King called on his readers to compare the rare instance of police accountability to the FDA issuing an emergency nationwide recall on peanut butter.
King explained that in the United States, peanut butter is everywhere.
About 94 percent of American homes have at least one jar in their cupboard at home. In his “dystopian America,” news has recently surfaced that “this treasured food staple is killing several people a day, day in and day out, including kids, all over the country.”
Once the recall was released, local and national news cover a single family sadly going through their home, carefully identifying all of their tasty peanut butter treats and tossing them in the garbage.
“It was a painful process, but they got it done. And it was on film for the whole world to see. Except they accidentally forgot the box of peanut butter granola bars and one pint of ice cream that has a peanut butter swirl in it. Hopefully, they’ll catch those things later, and toss them, but who knows?” King said.
However, he sees the extensive media coverage as something “akin to admitting that peanut butter is killing thousands of people, that the whole peanut butter industry is rotten and crooked and dangerous,” but believing a single family’s removal of their peanut product solves the real problem.
The U.S. has a “complex, systemic, nationwide crisis of police violence and mass incarceration,” he explained.
The U.S. arrests nearly 10 million people per year and spends almost $80 billion a year on prisons. Policing costs at least $115 billion more, though experts suspect that estimate is low seeing as the NYPD spent over $10 billion alone last year.
The achievement of convicting of a single officer “in comparison to the size and depth and complexity of the problem we’re up against,” King explained, hardly scratches the surface of the “deep systemic change” that the country needs.
Though the Chauvin conviction was a major breakthrough for the family of George Floyd and all who fought for this accountability, King questions whether a single case of accountability is enough to keep the momentum going for true reform.
Police in the United States kill more people in a day than police in most developed nations kill in a year, King explained.
Chauvin’s conviction, as a singular moment, is historic, he said, adding complacency with its results would be as if the FDA called for a nationwide recall of peanut butter, and only a singular, highly publicized family cleaned most–but not all–of the products containing peanut butter in their home.
“That doesn’t even solve the whole problem for that one family. It damn sure doesn’t solve the peanut butter problem for their block or their neighborhood, or their city, or county, or state, or region, King said, “what happens for one isolated family does next to nothing for the nation.”
Only one of many officers involved in the murder of George Floyd has been tried and convicted. That accountability “is still elusive for the family of George Floyd,” and almost “fully elusive for nearly 99 percent of families whose loved ones are killed by police,” he said.
King explained that moments after the verdict, President Biden and Vice President Harris called the family of George Floyd to congratulate them on the outcome of the trial. King pointed out that while Biden was in the Senate, his signature legislative achievement was what he called the “Biden Crime Bill,” which institutionalized, funded, and grew mass incarceration at an exponential pace.
“That law, passed in 1994, caused more harm to Black communities than any single piece of legislation of the past 40 years,” King said.
Though a harsh critic of President Biden’s “ugly history” when it comes to the criminal justice system, King recognized his ability to empathize with the loss of a family member, seeing as he has lost many loved ones himself.
Recognizing this empathy, King challenged President Biden to “take the sincere empathy and attention that he has shown the family of George Floyd, … and point it toward the deep systemic problems of injustice, police brutality and mass incarceration that actually caused his murder.”
King wants to know if Biden is willing to dismantle the unjust systems that he imagined and constructed himself. Without addressing the root of the problem– “the deep systemic civil rights crisis that the nation is facing”– President Biden’s “person-by-person friendliness rings somewhat hollow,” King said.
King asserted that President Biden has the power to “can make a whole lot of things better.”
King called on the Biden administration to immediately file federal charges against “the worst officers in this country who’ve caused deep harm.” The Attorney General Merrick Garland old cases, “and many more like them, including those of the officers who murdered Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor and more.”
“These most grievous wounds must be addressed,” he said, “the United States doesn’t simply need more conversation on race and racism; we need justice, accountability, change, and restoration.:
He assured that the Biden administration must increase the DOJ’s pattern and practice investigations into every form of police and prosecutor misconduct, similar to the investigation currently underway into the Minneapolis Police Department.
The Biden Administration must seriously increase the funding and staffing of the DOJ Criminal Division’s unit, which prosecutes police and prison guard misconduct and hate crimes.
Within that unit, King is called for the creation of a database of police misconduct that is publicly available and includes state reporting, much like police departments report data now to the FBI‘s Uniform Crime Report.
He asserted that this reporting must be mandatory and include every single form of police misconduct. “Failure from police departments to fully participate should result in the revocation of any federal funding they receive. and understaffed—and as a result it is often ineffective,” he said.
King also pointed out that the President has the power to commute and pardon individuals held in federal prison. He asserted that the Biden administration should use that power “to pardon those who do not pose a risk to the community, especially the elderly or those who were convicted under unjust laws,” including non-violent drug charges.
Instead of “ recklessly dumping more money into police departments,” King called on that the President should push Congress to include several criminal justice priorities for public safety in the federal budget.
They should “provide grants to local jurisdictions and states to invest in alternatives to policing including highly skilled, well-trained unarmed first responders for all mental health calls, substance use calls, homelessness calls, and all other non-violent calls,” he said.
King explained that before Congress right now “are two very important bills that will likely need to be merged in smart ways before they are passed—the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” and the BREATHE Act.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act aims to combat police misconduct, excessive force, and racial bias in policing, while the BREATHE Act, seeks to divert federal resources from jails and police and invest them instead in other methods of community safety.
King asserted that President Biden “needs to make it clear to Congress that he wants this legislation passed in 2021. Now is the time.” If President Biden fails to pressure his allies on this now, “the momentum to get such things done next year may be gone.”
Mia Machado is a junior at UC Davis, currently majoring in Political Science-Public Service and minoring in Luso-Brazilian studies. She is originally from Berkeley, California
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