White House press secretary Jen Psaki cut off a New York Post reporter when he pressed her on President Joe Biden’s “role in systemic racism” after he authored the 1994 crime bill, which some experts have said contributed to systemic racism.
Reporter Steve Nelson questioned Psaki on Wednesday about Biden’s role in the 1994 crime bill, noting multiple laws crafted by Biden “disproportionately jailed black people and contributed to what many people see as systemic racism.”
“To what extent does President Biden acknowledge his own role in systemic racism, and how does that inform his current policy positions?” Nelson continued.
Psaki initially appeared to deflect from the first half of the question.
“Well, I would say that the President is – one of the President’s core objectives is addressing racial injustice in this country not just through his rhetoric, but through his actions,” Psaki said. (RELATED: PBS Reporter Asks About The ‘Mess’ Created By The 1994 Crime Bill – Joe Biden Laughs)
“And what anyone should look to is his advocacy for passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, for nominating leaders to the Department of Justice to address long-outdated policies, and to ask his team – leadership team here in the White House to prioritize these issues in his presidency, which is current and today and not from 30 years ago.”
Nelson again asked Psaki whether Biden believes “it’s important to accept his own culpability in setting up a system–” before Psaki cuts him off.
“I think I’ve answered your question,” she quickly responded before moving on to other questions.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 is best known for its contributions to mass incarcerations, according to the Brennan Center.
Among many things, the bill institute a three-strikes provision that automatically imposed a life sentence on anyone convicted of a certain felony if they had two prior convictions. In 2016, 78.5% of Americans serving life sentences in federal prisons were people of color, according to the Center for American Progress.
The law also authorized the death penalty for a slew of new offenses, including drug offenses not related to homicide. In the five years after the bill was passed, 74% of defendants with death penalty recommendations were people of color, according to the think tank.
The bill also allowed prosecutors to charge 13-year-old children as adults for certain crimes. The Center for American Progress noted that two-thirds of Americans sentenced to life in prison as juveniles are black.
Biden has previously said that at the time, support made sense but appeared to admit it was a mistake to support the bill, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.
“Things have changed drastically. That crime bill when we voted, the Black Caucus voted for it, every black mayor supported it across the board,” Biden said, according to the WSJ.
“The mistake came in terms of what the states did locally,” he added.
When speaking at the National Action Network’s Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in 2019, Biden admitted he hasn’t “always been right” in regard to his stance on criminal justice, according to Business Insider.
Biden also said in June concerns from younger voters about his role in the crime bill were “legitimate” but that he should be based on his current stances, according to the Associated Press.