By Kassandra Frederique & Danielle Sered, Truthout
November’s election saw criminal legal system and drug policy reform win big at the polls. Oregon became the first state to decriminalize all drugs, and voters overwhelmingly passed other reforms to drug laws, even in deeply red states like South Dakota. Policing took center stage in the national dialogue. And both the vice president and president-elect in their first addresses to the nation promised to “root out systemic racism” in the criminal legal system.
The people have spoken, and we are on the precipice of a new moment for justice reform. But how we understand the scope of this collective call for change — and the challenge to which Biden and Harris will have to rise — stands to shape what our new world may look like for decades to come.
Central to determining the outcome of that question will be whether or not we as a nation move past one particular old and dangerous habit: for decades, reforms have underscored a dichotomy between nonviolent and violent offenses. This contrast often gets good traction, since it allows people who support drug policy and lower-level criminal legal reform to avoid having to grapple with the question of violence. It has been a winning strategy — but only for certain victories and people, and not without long-term costs.