Administration

Biden, Bass press for police reform after meeting Floyd family

President Biden and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the architect behind the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, met with Floyd’s family on Tuesday, doubling down on their commitment to get the legislation passed and signed into law on the one-year anniversary of his murder.

Floyd’s family members met with Bass and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) late in the morning, before making their way to the White House to have a private meeting with Biden.

“It’s an honor to be here with the family, but I stand here to renew the commitment that we will get this bill on President Biden’s desk,” Bass said at the Capitol after the meeting.

“What is important,” Bass continued, “is that when it reaches President Biden’s desk that it’s a substantive piece of legislation, and that is far more important than a specific date. We will work until we get the job done, it will be passed in a bipartisan manner.”

The Floyd family met privately with Biden and Vice President Harris in the Oval Office for more than an hour. Biden checked in on the family’s well being and expressed his commitment to getting policing reform passed. Among those who met with Biden and Harris were Floyd’s three brothers, his nephew, and his young daughter, Gianna.

“The day before her father’s funeral a year ago, Jill and I met the family and [Gianna] told me, ‘Daddy changed the world.’ He has,” Biden said in a statement following the meeting. “His murder launched a summer of protest we hadn’t seen since the Civil Rights era in the ‘60s – protests that peacefully unified people of every race and generation to collectively say enough of the senseless killings.

“Last month’s conviction of the police officer who murdered George was another important step forward toward justice,” Biden added. “But our progress can’t stop there.”

Harris, the first woman of color to hold the role of vice president, lamented in a separate statement that George Floyd “should be alive today.” The conviction of Derek Chauvin for murdering Floyd last summer “does not address the persistent issue of police misconduct and use of excessive force,” Harris said, or “take away the Floyd family’s pain, nor the pain of all those families who have grieved the untimely loss of a loved one.”

National civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents the family, said Biden reiterated the need for a policing reform bill to be substantive and not rushed.

Bass and Biden had initially said that their goal was to have the bill signed into law by Tuesday.

Biden told the family he’s “not happy” about the deadline for the legislation not being met, but wants to make sure it’s the right bill and that it “holds George’s legacy intact,” said Brandon Williams, Floyd’s nephew.

While Tuesday’s deadline wasn’t met, Bass has signaled that a deal is weeks away, not months.

Floyd’s family is also scheduled to meet with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who have been the main power-brokers in negotiations, along with Bass.

The bill which bears Floyd’s name was introduced by Bass last June after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine and a half minutes, killing him.

The death of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people at the hands of law enforcement sparked a new social movement last summer that featured nationwide Black Lives Matter protests and calls to end police brutality and systemic racism.

After Floyd was killed, Scott, the only Black Republican senator, introduced a police reform bill of his own, the JUSTICE Act.

The numerous similarities between the two proposals gave the two parties a good starting point to begin talks, though negotiations began once the bill passed the House in March and have yet to produce a bipartisan agreement.

Keeping the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act stalled in the Senate are two particularly contentious policy points: qualified immunity and federal civil rights law.

A powerful legal doctrine that’s embedded inside most states’ statutes, qualified immunity shields government officials like police officers from being liable in civil suits.

Democrats and police reform advocates believe that making police officers less impervious to repercussions for their conduct is crucial for greater accountability.

However, Republicans have drawn a line in the sand, arguing that slashing qualified immunity would push good cops out of the system and make it harder for law enforcement to do its job.

The federal civil rights provision — 18 U.S.C. 242 — currently prohibits officers from “willfully” denying someone of their constitutional rights, though few convictions happen under the code as it stands now, as proving malintent in police misconduct cases is exceedingly difficult.

Scott hinted on Tuesday that the current framework of the revised bill doesn’t include Democrats’ desired reforms to the statute, though declined to speak on the particulars of any part of the bill.

It’s unclear what the compromised proposal will look like in its finality.

The Floyd family argued it should not come down to a partisan divide or a debate between police protections and protections for the people they serve.

“We don’t think it has to be one against the other,” Crump told reporters when asked specifically about the divisions on qualified immunity. “It should be that we all want better policing.”

Added Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd: “If you can make federal laws to protect the bird, which is the Bald Eagle, you can make federal laws to protect people of color.”

Scott Wong contributed.

Tags Cory Booker death of George Floyd George Floyd George Floyd anniversary Joe Biden Karen Bass Nancy Pelosi police reform Qualified immunity Tim Scott

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