Posted on November 17, 2020

After Biden Win, Black Activists Demand Reparations for Slavery, Police Reform

Marco della Cava, USA Today, November 13, 2020

When President-elect Joe Biden addressed supporters last week to accept the highest office in the land, he took a moment to thank one specific group of Americans.

“When this campaign was at its lowest, the African American community stood up again for me,” Biden said. “They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”

Leading Black Lives Matter activists plan to hold him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to that I.O.U. with a vengeance.

In a tumultuous election year, one that both gave rise to a new civil rights movement in response to the death of George Floyd and saw Black Americans suffer disproportionately from the COVID-19 pandemic and staggeringly high unemployment, Black Lives Matter activists are asking the new administration to make Black matters paramount.

“For decades, Black people have shown up time and time again for a country that consistently tells us that our lives don’t matter,” said Mary Hooks, a founding member of Black Lives Matter Atlanta and co-director of Southerners on New Ground, a social justice advocacy organization. “Beyond a cheap thank you, we need this administration to be bold and unapologetic about paying that debt through enacting policy changes.”

After Biden accepted the presidency, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors wrote an open letter to Biden and Harris saying “we want something for our vote” and asked for an immediate meeting.

To date, no meeting has been set, which is concerning, said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and co-director of Black Lives Matter Grassroots, a national organizing arm of the organization.


The degree to which the incoming administration works with groups such as Black Lives Matter will help answer a larger unresolved question: how much influence will the progressive arm of the Democratic party have over a career centrist such as Biden and Harris, a former California attorney general, during the biggest reckoning on civil rights and racism since the 1960s?

While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a milestone achievement anchored by Martin Luther King, Jr., that landmark legislation far from erased the hurdles facing Black Americans, whose educational and economic opportunities continue to be stymied by legacies of slavery and systemic racism that surfaced in the form of redlining, redistricting and other restrictive measures.


Biden’s acceptance speech nod to Black voters and his choice of vice presidents — Harris being the first woman and first Black and South Asian American in the position — suggest the incoming president is aware he has debts to pay, says Todd Boyd, the Katherine and Frank Price endowed chair for the study of race and popular culture at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.


It is not an overstatement to say that Biden’s campaign was brought back from the dead by a March primary victory in South Carolina fueled by the work of South Carolina Congressman and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who is Black and was an organizer during the 1960s civil rights movement. That endorsement soon had a snowball effect.


In return, Black activists say, the winning ticket must take immediate action on matters such as health care, housing, education and, perhaps most paramount, police reform.


{snip} The movement soon began calling for an outright defunding of police departments. at the slogan — including Clyburn, who recently warned that the defund battle cry “is killing our party” — activists are resolute.

“Our clarion call was defund the police,” said Abdullah, the Los Angeles organizer. “That might not resonate within the core of the Democratic party, but it resonates with people on the streets.”

In Abdullah’s hometown, voters just approved Measure J, also known as “Reimagine LA County,” which requires that 10% of the city’s unrestricted general funds be invested in social services and alternatives to incarceration.

“That slogan means what it means, we can’t keep investing in a system that harms people of color and expect a different result,” said Angela Waters Austin, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Michigan, based in Lansing, and CEO of the activist non-profit One Love Global.

Like many activists of color, Waters Austin supports the national passage of The Breathe Act, a project of the non-profit Movement for Black Lives that proposes sweeping changes to the way tax dollars are allocated, emphasizing social programs over incarceration and providing grants to promote environmental health and social justice.


Atlanta activist Hooks does not shy away from a defund the police demand — “It is a lifeline we need to save ourselves and future generations,” she said. But she also is keen to push for a range of other changes from a Biden-Harris presidency.

With COVID-19 disproportionately hospitalizing and killing people of color, Biden “must prioritize a stimulus package that halts evictions,” she said. What’s more, beyond implementing the federal Breathe Act, the new president must expand Medicaid, expand rights for the LGBTQ community, and set a “dignified” federal minimum wage.

“Lastly,” Hooks added, “we need reparations for the descendants of Africans both here and abroad, period.”