Two years after George Floyd’s murder, frustrations growing
Two years after George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, the nation is struggling to deliver progress on a host of issues critical to race, policing and inequality in American life.
Floyd’s killing reverberated throughout the country, leading to protests for change not only in how police in the nation operate, but on a range of other issues including voting rights and representation.
But efforts in Washington to enact police or voting rights reform have run aground amid deep differences between Republicans and Democrats.
Just more than a week ago, a lone gunman in Buffalo, N.Y., killed 10 people in a racist shooting at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Yet even an effort to bolster federal monitoring of domestic terrorism — reflected in an anti-terror bill — is stalled, with Republicans arguing that the legislation could lead to bias against the right.
In an interview on Tuesday, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) voiced frustration with how partisanship has tanked a number of legislative pushes that have close ties to the Black community.
“I don’t see this as a Democratic problem versus a Republican problem. I don’t see it as a Black problem versus white problem,” Clyburn said. “We have a national problem here. This is a problem for all Americans.”
Other Democrats have also expressed disappointment with strides made at the national level toward racial progress over the past two years, especially in policing, after bipartisan talks on a sweeping reform bill broke down following Floyd’s killing.
The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin (Ill.), lamented the failed bipartisan negotiations in remarks on Tuesday.
“We have a long way to go. I wish we’d been able to do the bipartisan policing reform bill that Booker and Scott were working on,” Durbin said, referring to Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
He did, though, express optimism on progress lawmakers can achieve in the months ahead, emphasizing that work should be done “in the name of George Floyd and justice.”
Pressed further on potential progress Congress will be able to secure this year, however, Durbin pointed to the White House amid reports of President Biden’s plans to use executive power as a means for police reform.
The expected move would build upon actions taken at the administrative level in lieu of legislative efforts to reform policing, which have hit a roadblock in Congress, including steps by the Department of Justice to mandate body-worn cameras for the agency’s law enforcement personnel and limit the use of chokeholds and carotid restraints.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) also acknowledged efforts at the local and state levels to enact some reforms but said “they’re uneven and not necessarily consistent throughout the country.”
“So, while some communities have really dedicated themselves to working through a process of reforms, others have not and are no further ahead, which is why national legislation is so important,” she added.
In an evenly split upper chamber, where most legislation requires the support of 60 members for passage, deep party lines over policing, voting rights and other issues connected to race have stood in the way of reform that advocates say is necessary.
Some argue that nationwide efforts aimed at racial equity have also lost momentum as legislation stalls and amid what they call a growing backlash to the protest movement sparked by Floyd’s May 2020 murder.
“There’s a backlash that’s being fueled. It’s the replacement theory backlash. It’s the anti-CRT [critical race theory] backlash. It’s the Jan. 6 backlash,” Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said in an interview.
Morial’s comments come just over a week after the massacre in Buffalo, where 13 people were shot, 11 of whom were Black. Officials said the shooting suspect, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who is white, was found to have pointed to the racist “great replacement theory” in writings ahead of the shooting.
Republicans have since taken a stance against the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, a bill the House brought up in the wake of the shooting that seeks to establish domestic terrorism offices within various departments throughout the government.
House GOP leadership urged its conference to vote against the legislation, characterizing it as redundant and a threat to First Amendment rights, but the bill nonetheless passed in a 222-203 vote. One Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), joined Democrats in supporting the measure.
Senate Republicans are now vowing to stop the bill, falling into a similar pattern of previous legislation aimed at racial equity that failed in the upper chamber, as both sides of the aisle have struggled to find common ground on a path forward. That includes bills that sailed through a Democratic-led House like the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, only to be blocked or stalled in the evenly split Senate over party differences.
“Everything passed in the House. So what can Democrats do? I don’t know how you do any more. You pass it,” Clyburn said, while pointing to failed talks around the policing bill named for Floyd in stressing the need for compromise to secure meaningful change.
“If you got agreement on these two or three things, let’s go ahead and do that and come back and get the other two or three things at a later date. So now, we’ve gotten nothing,” Clyburn said.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson compared the current track to the development of the Civil Rights Act, which incrementally evolved over a number of years.
“Policy change is slow. It is not [instantaneous]. And even though individuals come to the table with the most righteous approaches to what policy should be in place, oftentimes it is not something that happened overnight or in this case even in two years. There is a process,” Johnson said.
Clyburn emphasized that the pendulum of change is always shifting forward and backward. The comments came after the 81-year-old lawmaker told The Washington Post last week that the U.S. was “in danger of imploding,” asserted that democracy was at risk of “disintegrating” and argued that “nobody is trying to solve the problem” of race in America.
“I try to stay vigilant and try to do what I can to meet the moment, and I try to encourage others to do the same. But if you think that just because you solve a problem today, that problem is going to be solved forever, you just haven’t learned the history of the country yet,” he told The Hill.