- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2021

President Biden on Tuesday tackled what he called “systemic racism and White supremacy” and announced an end to federal contracts with for-profit prisons.

Vowing a whole-of-government approach to combating racial inequity, Mr. Biden also ordered a review of historic racism in federal housing policy and reaffirmed American Indians’ tribal sovereignty. He also condemned racism against Asian Americans stemming from COVID-19 originating in China.

“It’s time to act now — not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because if we do, we’ll all be better off for it,” Mr. Biden said at a White House event. “For too long we have allowed a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester.”

He directed the Justice Department not to renew contracts with privately operated detention facilities — an industry critics blame in part for America’s high incarceration rates for racial minorities.

“This is the first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration that is less humane and less safe,” Mr. Biden said.

The moves left racial justice advocates wanting more and critics calling it an exercise in woke politicking.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said he was glad to see Mr. Biden acknowledge George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody last May, but that the president will likely need to back up the executive moves with legislation.

“We still want to see the George Floyd Bill come about and we still want to deal with police misconduct directly,” Mr. Sharpton said on MSNBC, referring to policing overhaul legislation. “I’m glad he brought it up in his statement. I want to see it addressed, though, with legislation.”

A coalition of racial justice and civil rights groups renewed calls for Mr. Biden to take more decisive action by creating a White House office dedicated to racial equity.

“Even before 2020 exposed our pandemic of triple deadly disease and economic hardship and racial unrest, America was a nation that still had only begun to grapple with the legacy of white supremacy,” said National Urban League President Marc Morial.

But critics are accusing Mr. Biden of deepening the racial divide in America.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Mr. Biden’s primary focus has been to “rig the system” so people are treated differently based on their race.

“The woke commissars who run the government call this ‘equity,’ but separating people into buckets based on their skin color will always be immoral,” Mr. Cotton, a Republican, said in explaining his vote against confirming Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

The White House promised there would be more racial action down the road.

Officials described the president’s calling out of anti-Asian American sentiment as a move to confront the evolving nature of racism.

Susan Rice, who heads the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the Asian-American community has been “targeted by political leaders in our nation’s response to COVID-19.”

Former President Trump frequently referred to the coronavirus, first discovered in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, as the “China virus” and the disease as the “kung flu.”

Mr. Trump’s critics said those terms were racist.

During the campaign, Mr. Biden had laid out a comprehensive criminal-justice plan that included expanding the federal government’s role in stamping out police misconduct, eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing, and decriminalizing the use of marijuana.

Mr. Biden said his actions Tuesday are “just the beginning” of his administration’s efforts to address systemic problems in the criminal justice system.

“Yes, we need criminal justice reform. But that isn’t nearly enough,” he said.

Mr. Biden also put in a brief plug for a voting-rights bill that congressional Democrats named after the late Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

“The simple truth is our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said he was pleased with the “first steps” from Mr. Biden but that they’re not a substitute for legislative action.

“They will start to make a difference right away in changing the trajectory of our national approach to confronting systemic racism and promoting inclusion, equality, and justice for all,” said Mr. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

On his first day in office, Mr. Biden had signed an executive order directing the federal government to pursue an “equity” agenda for people of color and underserved groups.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Mr. Biden’s pick to lead the Commerce Department, said Tuesday she thinks Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency can play a key role in promoting equity.

“COVID has shined a light on the inequities in our economy, and the president has been very clear: we’re going to build back better and more equitably and I strongly support that,” Ms. Raimondo said at her confirmation hearing.

The push against for-profit prisons is not new for Mr. Biden. During the Obama administration, where Mr. Biden was vice president, the Justice Department began to wind down contracts with private prisons citing security and safety concerns.

In 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the move, saying it hindered the federal government’s ability to meet the needs of the federal correctional system.

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