Biden calls on Congress to pass George Floyd police reform bill by end of May
President Biden on Wednesday urged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, highlighting not only one of the marquee issues that he campaigned on, but a topic that has been at the forefront of national discussion since last year.
“We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black America,” Biden told said during his first address to Congress, referencing the death of George Floyd, who was killed last May when an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, was convicted of murder and manslaughter earlier this month.
“Now is our opportunity to make real progress,” the president continued. “We have to come together. To rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve. To root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system. And to enact police reform in George Floyd’s name that passed the House already.”
The president’s speech comes as he reaches the 100-day mark of his presidency, which has been headlined by an ambitious national strategy to vaccinate the country in an effort to tamp down the coronavirus pandemic.
But Biden has not shied away from multi-tasking.
Following his electoral victory over former President Trump in November, Biden made a bold pledge to Black Americans — that he’d have their backs — and it’s something that he’s attempted to make good on.
Police reform is just one of a handful legislative priorities that Black lawmakers and Biden have been in lockstep on.
The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act – first introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) following Floyd’s death – in March, but it has since stalled in the evenly split Senate.
If signed into law, the legislation would implement sweeping changes to federal policing standards.
Racial profiling at every level of law enforcement would be prohibited; chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants would be banned at the federal level; qualified immunity for officers would be overhauled; and a national police misconduct registry would be created so officers who were fired for such discretions could not be hired by another police department.
The bill wouldn’t mandate certain reforms such as the chokehold ban at a state and local level, but it would tie in the new federal standards as thresholds for police departments to meet if they want to continue receiving federal aid.
Though the bill didn’t receive GOP support in the House, police reform is a bipartisan issue.
After Floyd’s death, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C) — the only Black Republican in the upper chamber — introduced his own police reform bill, and since March he’s been in negotiations with Bass and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
The red line for Scott and other Republicans is the slashing of qualified immunity, which shields state and local government officials, including law enforcement officers, from civil suits unless they violated a clearly established constitutional right.
During his lengthy address, Biden pushed both parties to get the bill passed by May 25, the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death.
“I know the Republicans have their own ideas and are engaged in productive discussions with Democrats. We need to work together to find a consensus,” the president said.
“Congress should act,” he added. “We have a giant opportunity to bend to the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”
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