White House underscores action amid violent crime streak
A series of violent crimes in major U.S. cities has put a renewed spotlight on the issue for President Biden’s administration after it was a central line of attack in the 2020 campaign.
Two officers were fatally shot late last week in New York City, where multiple people have also been pushed in front of subway trains in recent days. A Washington, D.C., police officer was also shot over the weekend.
In Chicago, 22 people were shot this past weekend as the city grapples with systemic violence that been a major issue for years. And a deputy was shot and killed in Houston during a traffic stop early Sunday morning.
Experts said overall crime remained mostly stable in 2021 after a sharp increase in 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. But gun crime in particular has increased, something the White House has been especially focused on.
Biden as recently as last week reiterated his belief in investing in police departments rather than cutting funding, and the White House has consistently pushed back on the idea that the administration is soft on crime.
The renewed focus on the issue comes amid talk Biden may unveil an executive order on policing after efforts for reform stalled in Congress.
“The president is never going to be satisfied or complacent when officers are being gunned down or when Americans have to worry about whether they can safely ride the subway or bus or even be at work,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
“We’ve seen a surge in crime … especially gun violence over the last two years. And the president has been aggressive in using the tools at our disposal to combat that,” she added.
Biden spoke with New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) on Monday night to express his condolences for one of the officers who died after a Friday shooting. The city’s police department announced Tuesday that a second officer died from their injuries.
“During the call the president also reiterated his commitment to serve as a strong federal partner for NYC and other cities grappling with the increase in gun crime we’ve seen over the past two years,” Psaki said Tuesday.
The White House has largely focused its efforts on stemming gun violence. Biden in June announced a series of investments and steps taken by the federal government to specifically target community crime.
Biden has touted money from the American Rescue Plan set aside for the hiring of more police officers and for community intervention programs to curb violence, and the Justice Department has deployed “firearms trafficking strike forces” to Chicago, New York City and other areas with high volumes of gun violence.
The president has also called on Congress to pass tougher gun laws that include more thorough background checks, to no avail.
The overall strategy is reflective of Biden’s attempts — dating back to the 2020 Democratic primary — to rebuff claims from conservatives that he is weak on crime.
Then-President Trump and his allies repeatedly tried, with limited success, to tie Biden to the “defund the police” movement and violence taking place under Trump’s watch.
“We shouldn’t be cutting funding for police departments. I proposed increasing funding,” Biden told a gathering of U.S. mayors last week.
Jeff Asher, who analyzes crime statistics and is co-founder of AH Datalytics, said while government data on crime from 2021 won’t be available for several months, data reported by major cities suggests violent crime and property crime was roughly even compared to 2020, with a slight increase in murder rates.
And while there have been a slew of headline-grabbing shootings and crimes in major cities at the start of 2022, it’s not necessarily an indicator of a larger rise in crime nationwide, Asher said.
The issue of crime can have political salience at the local level, strategists said. Adams ran for New York City mayor as a former police officer who centered public safety in his campaign and has since outlined measures to try to crack down on gun crime in the wake of the weekend’s shootings.
“We have a true ally in the @WhiteHouse,” Adams tweeted Tuesday. “@POTUS knows what it takes to keep our streets safe and his support will be invaluable in getting the job done.”
While the White House has been consistent in its messaging on crime and gun violence, strategists question how significant the issue will be for Biden in a midterm year when most voters will overwhelmingly be focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the economic recovery.
“I think that elections are usually about people’s lives,” said Joel Benenson, who served as a polling analyst on former President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “And I think while there may be some places where crime is an issue, I think we’re living through a pandemic, we’re having battles over mandates around masking, and I think people want to be out of the pandemic. I think they’re focused on their economic lives.”
“I think what you see is you can’t draw national conclusions about crime rates in different cities,” he added.