On Thursday March 2, President Joe Biden came out with a public statement disapproving the recently passed “revised criminal code” law from the D.C. City Council saying that he will not veto a Republican-led resolution which will overturn it. “I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule — but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings,” Biden tweeted.

The Council’s legislation would have eliminated mandatory minimums, a long failed deterrent to crime. This comes a few weeks after the administration not only released a statement in defense of the District’s Home Rule but also specifically rejected overturning the criminal code reform and legislation giving non-citizens voting rights. 

This recent contradictory statement is a slap in the face to the people who support local governance in the District and have absolute disdain for the anti-democratic character of the modern Republican party which took part in the fascist coup attempt on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. By falling for the “tough-on-crime” media onslaught against the Black Lives Matter and pro-democracy movements stemming from the 2020 George Floyd rebellion, the Biden administration and some corporate Democrats have lined up with the extreme right in the House and Senate in denying not only local governance but African American empowerment. D.C. is 48% Black. 173 House Democrats voted against the MAGA resolution.

Some D.C. political leaders share the blame. Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose office had taken part in the 16-year long deliberation to update the century-old criminal code, vetoed the bill. The Council then overturned the veto. After pressure from constituents to lobby against the racist GOP majority’s pending assault on democracy, Bowser sent a weakly-worded letter telling Congress to not interfere with the affairs of D.C. The Washington Post and other corporate-backed newspapers also spent weeks attacking the D.C. Council for being “soft on crime.” These right-wing attacks, along with the passiveness of some local Democrat leaders, created the conditions for Biden’s capitulation.

Those who claim to support D.C.’s right to self-governance and have publicly supported statehood  cannot interfere with laws passed when they feel such laws are politically inconvenient. The Revised Criminal Code had modernized the District’s legal system. It was outdated, unjust, and inconsistent set of laws. Indeed, to support this Republican onslaught on the District is to support an offensive against democracy. Republicans had previously introduced bills to strip D.C. of home rule, potentially rolling back decades of democracy in the nation’s capital. They have also recently passed a resolution to block the immigrant voting rights bill, which would enfranchise 50,000 residents in the District, granting them the right to participate in local elections on issues that affect their daily lives.

Congress has only successfully passed resolutions blocking the city’s bills three times previously — 1979, 1981, and 1991. It looks like the fourth time will be under a Democratic administration. Commenting on this, CPUSA co-chair Joe Sims said, “As a former resident of D.C. during those days, I know what it feels like to live without real representation and voting power. The demand for statehood is deeply felt in D.C. It will not go away. Biden’s decision is dead wrong, misguided and a capitulation to GOP racism. They’re drawing the wrong lesson from the Chicago election. It will come back to haunt him.”

To say we are not surprised is an understatement. All too often the two parties have united to criminalize Black and Brown youth. It happened in the War on Drugs, the Contract With America, and it’s happening again. It’s an ongoing story in the United States’s racist history. But history has also shown that with  mass pressure and protest, racism can be beaten back.

We will continue to defend D.C.’s home rule and fight for statehood for the 700,000 residents here. If they attack one, they attack us all. It is time for a renewed working-class-led movement to fight for D.C. statehood and to take the leadership out of the hands of the local parties and advocacy groups that have done the absolute minimum on this issue.

Image: Facebook


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