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There's a clear way for Joe Biden to fight for justice and show his commitment to the Black voters who put him in the White House

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joe biden
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden makes a stop at The Warehouse, a community center for teens in East Wilmington, on November 03, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.
  • Joe Biden was elected president in large part due to support from Black voters.
  • Biden should pay back this trust from Black voters by fighting for racial justice and reforming the racist criminal justice system.
  • One way to do that is to advocate for the BREATHE Act, which would reshape our prison system and undo some of the damage of incarceration on communities of color.
  • Ashish Prashar is the Senior Director of Global Communications for Publicis Sapient, Board Member of New York-based Exodus Transitional Community and Getting Out and Staying Out, and Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When the story of the 2020 election is written, one of the biggest takeaways will be just how much Black voters came through for President-elect Joe Biden.

When Biden's primary campaign was written off by many, Black voters in South Carolina handed him a big win that catapulted him to the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination.

And Black voters in Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Atlanta helped to put Biden over the top in the presidential election. 87% of Black voters nationwide chose the former vice president over Trump, during an election year that broke turnout records, according to preliminary national exit polling. It's striking that people who have been failed and treated the worst by our democracy consistently do the most to save it.

And yes, Black voters (and non-voters) have been failed by our country. 

The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, a result of decades of bipartisan legislation — like the 1994 Crime Bill — that propped up institutional racism. Nearly 2.3 million people are locked up in jails and prisons according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That's the biggest peacetime prison population in the history of humanity.  And of those 40% of Americans languishing in prisons are Black Americans, while they make up only 13% of the general population. 

President-elect Joe Biden thanked Black voters in his victory speech for rescuing his campaign when it was at its lowest point and bringing it over the finish line, declaring "you've always had my back, and I'll have yours."

Joe Biden's dramatic vow during his victory speech to return the favor for Black voters who supported him was an explicit commitment to Black Americans to listen and act on their behalf.

It is high time for him to honor this new commitment and deliver justice.   

Joe can deliver real justice 

In his bid for the Presidency, Joe Biden released an extensive policy agenda that outlined his plan for Black America. It included proposals to invest in Black businesses and entrepreneurs, create opportunities for homeownership, narrow racial disparities in education and address a criminal justice system that disproportionately arrests, convicts and imprisons members of Black communities.

What is imperative right now is for Biden to work to undo the injustices that run rampant through the American criminal justice system and follow through on most of the promises he made during the campaign. 

However, every radical piece of legislation that we've ever passed in this country, it has passed on the heels of the kinds of grassroots protests that we saw on the streets this past Summer.

Young Black voters who did not back Biden in the primary are the same Black youth that secured him the Presidency but also who hold his political record partially responsible for the pain they are feeling, and who continue to protest in the streets demanding a bolder vision of the future, and calling for their fellow Americans, including elected officials, to join them.

From those protests and the work of Movement for Black Lives with so many organizations dedicated to ending the injustice of mass incarceration, a bolder vision has been presented. It is the BREATHE Act.

This proposed legislation would eliminate the federal government's ability to give multimillion-dollar grants for the militarization of police forces, and calls for a "time-bound plan" to close all federal prisons and immigration detention centers. 

Instead of a system that relies almost solely on punishment, the BREATHE Act creates a new Community Public Safety Agency which uses grants to replace the harmful criminal legal systems locally with evidence-based public safety infrastructure. Importantly, the act moves the function of public safety out of the Department of Justice and into the Department of Health and Human Services — signaling a dramatic shift in how our society approaches community well-being. 

The investments the BREATHE Act makes in education, healthcare, the environment, wealth generation for working class families, and housing, creates public safety by supporting communities, rather than punishing them.

If you truly want every American to participate in society, you do not pass laws that keep them from doing so. More than six million people are not allowed to vote today due to a felony conviction, something the BREATHE Act would immediately change if passed. 

We know that prisons won't be bulldozed tomorrow, and the complete elimination of the current justice system can't be done in one fell swoop. However, we need to create space for budgets to be divested from police and prisons and invested directly into communities to address mental health needs, homelessness, access to critical education, and rewarding jobs as well as community-based methods of accountability.

A strong first step is for the Biden Administration to support the BREATHE ACT to make it possible for all communities to be safe and free.

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