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Biden Administration Aims To Advance Racial Equity With Executive Actions

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

President Joe Biden is pledging that racial equity will be at the heart of his administration.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I ran for president because I believe we're in a battle for the soul of this nation. And the simple truth is our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist.

MCCAMMON: Biden signed executive orders this week that cover housing, private prisons and the treatment of Native Americans and Asian Americans. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: President Biden says the country is at a turning point in its attitude toward racial justice after police killings of unarmed Black people sparked protests last summer.

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BIDEN: Those eight minutes and 46 seconds that took George Floyd's life opened the eyes of millions of Americans and millions of people around - all over the world.

JOHNSON: Over his first week in office, Biden reversed the so-called Muslim ban and paved the way for a return to diversity and inclusion training programs in the government. On Tuesday, he signed four new executive orders. Susan Rice leads the White House Domestic Policy Council.

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SUSAN RICE: Today, the average Black family has just one-tenth the wealth of the average white family while the gap between white and Black in home ownership is now larger than it was in 1960.

JOHNSON: The first Biden executive order directs federal agencies to overcome a history of racism in housing and restore tools to uncover evidence of discrimination when people apply for rental units and mortgages. The second executive order instructs the Justice Department to phase out its contracts with private prisons.

DAVID FATHI: This will not end mass incarceration. But it's an important step toward taking the profit motive out of incarceration.

JOHNSON: That's David Fathi. He directs the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. Fathi says the president has an obligation to do more because of his promises on the campaign trail.

FATHI: There is much, much more work that needs to be done. Most obviously, this order does not apply to immigration detention, where more than 80% of detained immigrants are held in private, for-profit prisons.

JOHNSON: The final two executive orders promised support and respect for Native American sovereignty and call on federal agencies to fight xenophobia against Asian Americans. Hateful rhetoric against them has spiked during the pandemic. Demelza Baer directs public policy at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She expects to see more from the federal government since it's already hired experts in racial equity across the administration.

DEMELZA BAER: One of the strongest signals to the civil rights community has been the appointments of key administration officials who come from the civil rights community and are committed to their core of their work to racial equity and justice.

JOHNSON: Biden says to expect more executive orders soon.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.