US president Joe Biden has signed four executive orders with the aim of improving racial equality. The most recent flurry of orders are related to housing and criminal justice reform.
Announcing the signings, Biden said that "now is the time to act" and tackle the issue of racial inequality. "Across nearly every faith, the same principles hold: We’re all God’s children; we should treat each other as we would like to be treated ourselves," he said.
Biden went on to highlight the death of George Floyd, saying the killing "opened the eyes of millions" and sparked a movement for change. "What many Americans didn't see or had simply refused to see couldn't be ignored any longer," he added. “It stirred the consciousness in millions of Americans and in my view it marked a turning point in this country’s view toward racial justice.”
Biden's orders include an instruction for the Department of Justice to not renew contracts with private prison operators and an acknowledgement of the role the federal government has played in discriminatory housing policy.
In a statement, Susan Rice, who leads the White House Domestic Policy Council, said that Biden was "committed to reducing mass incarceration while making our communities safer".
"That starts with ending the federal government's reliance on private prisons."
"For too long, we have allowed a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester," Biden added. "We bought the view that America is a zero-sum game in many cases."
Biden also signed an order re-stating the federal government’s commitment to the sovereignty of tribal governments over their respective territories. He also issued a memorandum regarding the rise of anti-Asian sentiment during the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Biden has now signed 37 executive orders since taking office last week. Despite many of the orders being in relation to the coronavirus pandemic response, the sheer number of directives being signed by Biden - amounting to many more than his predecessors - has prompted some criticism.
In an Op-ed, the editorial board of the New York Times urged Biden to "ease up" on the orders.
"Executive actions are far more ephemeral and easily discarded than legislation, which can set up a whipsaw effect, as each president scrambles to undo the work of his predecessor," they wrote. "Just as Mr. Trump set about reversing as many of President Barack Obama's directives as possible, Mr. Biden is now working to reverse many of Mr. Trump's reversals. With executive orders, there is always another presidential election just a few years off, threatening to upend everything.
"This creates instability and uncertainty that can carry significant economic as well as human costs."
Rice insisted that the orders are necessary to advancing the administration's goals.
“These [orders] are a continuation of our initial steps to advance racial justice and equity through early executive action,” she said. “Beyond this, the president is committed to working with Congress to advance equity in our economy, our criminal justice systems, our healthcare systems, and in our schools.”
Biden has also disbanded Trump’s 1776 Commission, which was set up last year to promote “patriotic education”, called the initiative "counterfactual".
"Unity and healing must begin with understanding and truth, not ignorance and lies," he said.