The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act: A Dangerous New Chapter in the War on Black Youth

By Deanie Anyangwe and Clarence Okoh

In June 2022, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) into law as a response to a series of recent mass shooting tragedies. The act has generally been upheld as a major legislative victory that addresses gun violence and invests in mental health supports. While the investments in mental health are long overdue, the BSCA simultaneously includes a series of dangerous provisions that will disproportionately expose people who are Black, brown, disabled, and young—as well as those experiencing poverty—to increased criminalization.

Visionary young leaders who are closest to gun violence have demanded anti-carceral policy approaches to reduce violence. Yet the BSCA reinforces a carceral vision for public safety that is both ineffective and rooted in anti-Black racism. It appropriates at least $1.5 billion to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to support policing and punitive interventions that will harm Black and brown young people. The BSCA will expand student surveillance, school militarization, and data-driven police strategies against youth who have been marginalized—undermining privacy and civil rights. Troublingly, it fits squarely within the Biden Administration’s disturbing return to 90s-era “fund the police” rhetoric, betraying their commitment to racial equity. It also distracts from viable, youth-centered, anti-carceral policy solutions for school safety.

This brief offers context on the youth criminalization crisis in the United States. We then outline a series of harmful elements in the BSCA. Specifically, we review provisions that:

  • Increase funding for threat assessments, surveillance, and greater police presence in schools;
  • Expand data-sharing between law enforcement and mental health providers, risking youth privacy rights; and
  • Reinforce racial bias and take other ineffective approaches to reduce gun violence.

In addition, this brief provides recommended actions that Congress, federal agency leaders, and community advocates can take to mitigate these harms.

For a full analysis of the key mental health provisions in the BSCA, a timeline of expected implementation, and recommendations for mental health policies that center equity, read our sister brief: The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act: Wins for Mental Health Undermined for Black and Brown Youth.

>> Read the full brief here