**FILE** Joe Biden (Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)
**FILE** Joe Biden (Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

President Joe Biden will make his State of the Union address on March 7. As a veteran civil rights leader committed to improving public safety and unlocking economic prosperity in our communities, there are a few policies I hope the president will address.

There also is one I hope he will leave 鈥 permanently 鈥 on the cutting room floor.

That policy is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration鈥檚 (FDA) proposed prohibition on the sale of menthol cigarettes. Local law enforcement would oversee executing this ban and because Black Americans who smoke are more likely to choose menthol cigarettes, the Biden administration鈥檚 proposed rule will result in more, potentially violent encounters between cops and people of color.

In other words: the FDA鈥檚 proposal runs directly counter to President Biden鈥檚 attempts to address crime and reform law enforcement practices to better protect Black Americans and other communities of color. Crime is rising especially in many urban centers. The proposed FDA rule change will lead to underground and illicit transactions that will only contribute to more crime and more negative interactions between law enforcement and communities of color.

We cannot leave our communities unprotected. At the same time, I recognize that Black and Brown individuals account for 68.7% of the people in prison and 44% of the people killed by police in the United States. To reduce these numbers, we need to change the culture and premise of policing.

It is estimated that, in several cities, less than 5% of an officer鈥檚 time is spent fighting violent crime. Police are still expected to respond to 911 calls, even if these calls have nothing to do with a crime. That requirement is part of the problem. According to the , people with mental illness are more than 10 times as likely to experience the use of force in interactions with law enforcement than those without mental illnesses. Calling 911 when a person is having a manic episode should not be a matter of life and death, but, too often, it is.

Instead of issuing regulations that will require law enforcement to tackle yet another public health matter, President Biden should make it clear how he intends to help communities take the burden for nonviolent public safety matters off law enforcement鈥檚 shoulders. Enhancing funding for substance abuse, mental health, and housing counselors, for example, will keep more people out of jail and prevent police violence.

To further improve outcomes for people of color, President Biden should issue a bold plan to increase Black homeownership. Last year, the  reported that while 72.7% of white Americans own their own homes, only 44% of Black Americans do. Black homeownership has only increased 0.4% in the past decade.

An effective strategy to overcome poverty in Black America is to increase homeownership and prevent racial hypersegregation. President Biden聽聽some regulatory actions to address housing discrimination, but improving access to homeownership will require greater efforts to reduce inflation so Black Americans can save and get out from under the burden of high interest rates.

Finally, President Biden should continue to request additional federal funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The gap in funding between predominantly white institutions and HBCUs is not the result of smaller endowments. It is the result of systemic underfunding by state lawmakers. According to an  report, the country鈥檚 historically Black land-grant universities have been underfunded by their states by a total of $13 billion. HBCUs are a . They constitute only 3% of four-year U.S. colleges, but their graduates account for 80% of all Black judges, 50% of Black lawyers, and 50% of Black doctors.

National polls indicate African Americans do not want their votes to be taken for granted in 2024.  President Biden now has a strategic opportunity to engender trust, promote more inclusive public policies, and commit to helping our communities improve the quality of life.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is presently the CEO & President of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the President of Education Online Services Corporation (EOServe Corp), the world鈥檚...

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  1. This article is rife with misinformation and reeks of Big Tobacco propaganda. The menthol ban makes manufacturing and distribution of menthol cigarettes illegal, not possession or usage. Local police interacting adversely with black communities is real鈥攖hat a ban on menthol increases these interactions is not. As to the logic of the underground and illicit transactions鈥攕hould we legalize fentanyl and allow it to be sold in gas stations and convenience stores so millions and millions of kids can be come addicted to it, but at least there won鈥檛 be an 鈥渦nderground鈥 market? How about sex trafficking?鈥hould we legalize that so the perpetrators can have less interactions with law enforcement?
    ALL the science and research concludes that banning menthol will save MILLIONS of lives鈥攑rimarily black ones. The benefits of this legislation far outweigh any potential pitfalls.

  2. The errors/omissions in Paragraph 3 are glaring. After correcting those, the argument contained against the ban very quickly dissolves.
    (1) OMISSION. The policy would affect the sale of menthol cigarettes; however, it would do so only among 鈥渕anufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers鈥 (source: FDA Fact Sheet ) After reviewing FDA.gov, this seems to be in lockstep with FDA standards of practice for all prohibitions.
    (2) ERROR. State and local law enforcement do not enforce FDA bans. Enforcement is done with the direct support of the US Marshals Service. The reason is because of (1). Those are typically large-scale seizures are done by the Marshals.

    I am not so jaded as the Feb26 commenter to see 鈥渕isinformation鈥 or 鈥減ropaganda.鈥 But I do hope to see Dr. Chavis retract this op-ed and reverse his support.

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