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“Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

— Joe Biden

Over decades now, Joe Biden has continuously peppered this catchphrase into his fundraising emails and campaign speeches — which the President attributes to his father, Joseph R. Biden Sr.

Its premise is simple and concrete: A person reveals what is important to them (and what is not) via their allocation of prime resources — like money, personnel or time. This measuring stick provided our lens for viewing President Biden’s State of the Union on March 1, 2022. His writers spent weeks preparing to message to the largest audience a sitting president addresses each year in primetime. Their budget, in this case, comprised two lanes: earned media and the people’s undivided attention.

The former explains itself: *He’s speaking, uninterrupted, on multiple channels for free. There’s nothing more valuable for a candidate than syndication, including donations.

The latter is more complex: Presidents bear the responsibility of speaking to all Americans when they address us; in this instance, it is clear that President Biden (and his speechwriters) prioritized the fears of white conservatives and his polling numbers over the demands hundreds of thousands of people have made in regards to a real concern over our safety in our own homes and communities.

During the address, we paid close attention to our “value” using the President’s own rubric, and what was clear was that we weren’t even on the ledger. The President’s speechwriters dedicated a total of zero minutes to any issues that plague communities of color. Instead of seeking inclusivity, the President opted for a sound bite that could resonate with those who at times openly oppose him, rather than granting much-needed airtime to the concerns of millions of people he also represents (particularly the millions of Black, brown and indigenous people who delivered the presidency).

We have openly lauded the President’s efforts, particularly his efforts to move a massive infrastructure package that aims to rebuild infrastructure critical to our nation. But after Biden’s SOTU, we are left to question what efforts he is making to build a bridge for and *with communities of color who continue to see the American promise outside their full reach.

Mr. President, when you make statements like “Fund the police with the resources and training *they need to protect our communities,” whose communities do you mean?

By exclaiming “Fund the police!” three times in the course of his remarks, the President bolstered the fallacy that somehow pouring additional resources into a system we have pictorial, videographic and statistical evidence is failing makes sense. His harsh rebuke of the “Defund the Police” movement without giving voice to the desire for transparency, accountability and interventions that better serve all of our communities landed as a replay of hits from his 1994 Crime Bill (which served to spike mass incarceration and separated countless generations of young people of color from their parents).

President Biden is aware of this movement’s nuances. He knows that we seek to remove police officers from school hallways, replace badged uniforms with mental-health professionals, and reallocate funds from police budgets to programs and services that drive public safety. Biden knows there’s no public resource funded better than policing, just as much as he knows there are other factors that are underfunded that lead towards safer communities for all.

We are not alone in this analysis; the President is even out of step with his own 2020 Democratic Party Platform, the platform Biden campaigned under, which states

“Democrats also recognize that all too often, systematic cuts to public services have left police officers on the front lines of responding to social challenges for which they have not been trained, from homelessness to mental health crises to the opioid epidemic. We can and must do better for our communities.”

Nobody expects Biden to spike the football for progressives; that’s never been his style. But Biden’s call to invest more money into a failed system even as Congress fails to invest in BIPOC communities is a betrayal of the people who put him in office, including those who stood in line for hours to deliver him to the highest office in the land.

Biden disregarded this mission, his campaign promises, the plights of voters who elected him and even his father’s advice when he chose to reduce the conversation about policing in America to “fund the police.” Only Vince McMahon would better appreciate the cheap pop of applause that Biden seemed to enjoy from the GOP’s white nationalist caucus the night of his SOTU. Republicans like Steve Scalise and Lauren Boebart sprung from their seats at this moment; they knew President Biden’s words dropped like a knee on the pulse of those fighting to end police harassment and the extrajudicial killings of Black and brown people.

President Biden’s remarks sound a lot more like a dog whistle than a call for unity. We call on the president and Congress to end federal funding for police and instead invest in the social safety net, including public education, healthcare and housing, which truly keep communities safe. We urge this administration to stop catering to pundits and start listening to our communities. We call on President Joe Biden to deliver for the communities that delivered for him.


Analilia Mejia and DaMareo Cooper are the Co-Executive Directors of the Center for Popular Democracy Action.