WASHINGTON • President Joe Biden said on Tuesday it was “time to act now” to heal America’s racial divide, taking several steps and promising more to confront the racism and inequality that has plagued the country for far too long.
Racial tensions simmered during the turbulent four-year presidency of Mr Donald Trump and Mr Biden noted that the Jan 6 siege of the Capitol by Trump supporters was carried out by “thugs, insurrectionists, political extremists and white supremacists”.
But Mr Biden said he believes the vast majority of Americans believe in equality.
“We’ve never fully lived up to the founding principles of this nation – to state the obvious – that all people are created equal and have a right to be treated equally throughout their lives,” he said.
“And 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 took executive action on four fronts: curbing the United States government’s use of private prisons; bolstering anti-discrimination enforcement in housing; underscoring a commitment to Native American tribal sovereignty; and condemning discrimination against Asian Americans and Americans of Pacific Island descent that has risen during the Covid-19 pandemic, as the virus is believed to have originated in China.
The Democratic President has sought to roll back some of the policies of his Republican predecessor and deliver on racial justice reforms he promised during his election campaign.
Mr Biden and other critics have accused Mr Trump of pursuing policies built around “white grievance” in a nation where the white population is declining as a percentage of the whole.
The President drew criticism from some Republicans when he used his inaugural address last week to decry white supremacist ideology and political extremism.
“If you read his speech and listen to it carefully, much of it is thinly veiled innuendo calling us white supremacists, calling us racists,” Kentucky Senator Rand Paul told Fox News.
Black voters proved critical to Mr Biden in winning his party’s presidential nomination and the Nov 3 election.
The country was rocked by protests against racism and police brutality in many cities last year in response to incidents including the death of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Last week, Mr Biden signed an executive order establishing a government-wide initiative to address racial inequity and systemic racism in federal policies, laws and programmes.
On Tuesday, he said that in the coming weeks he would reaffirm a federal “commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and accessibility”.
Interest groups as diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union and the US Chamber of Commerce praised Mr Biden’s moves.
Mr Biden said his order directing the Justice Department not to renew its contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities is intended to ultimately end the department’s use of private prisons.
He described the move as the first step to “stop corporations from profiting” off incarcerating inmates, and said it was “just the beginning of my administration’s plan to address systemic problems in our criminal justice system”.
The Biden administration will also require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to study and counteract the racially discriminatory impacts of previous policies.
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