One year after George Floyd’s murder, family members of police brutality victims are ramping up pressure on Congress to hold police officers accountable through significant reforms.
In a daylong sprint across Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Floyd’s family met members of Congress to urge them to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban chokeholds, limit no-knock warrants, and offer a path toward holding police officers accountable in court.
The bill, which was first introduced shortly after Floyd’s death, has stalled in negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over qualified immunity, a long-standing legal doctrine that has made prosecuting police officers difficult and can act as a shield against holding them accountable.
Democrats have long called to end qualified immunity, while Republicans have pushed to retain aspects of the rule. Sen. Tim Scott, who has led the Republican Party’s negotiations over the bill, has worked with Democrats to find a compromise. Scott’s proposal would create a pathway for victims or their families to sue police departments but keep protections for individual officers in place.
The debate over the rule has pushed the policing reform bill past the self-imposed deadline that President Joe Biden set during his address to Congress last month. Biden hosted Floyd’s family at the White House to commemorate the first anniversary of his death, even as the legislation has stalled in Congress and as calls to pass policing reform have grown across the country with new reports of people being killed by police.
Floyd’s family members and their attorneys said they believe Biden is committed to passing substantive policing reform legislation after meeting with him and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on Tuesday.
“They are still doing everything to make sure that his legacy is respected,” Ben Crump, the family’s lead attorney, told reporters following the meeting. “He said that he doesn’t want to sign a bill that doesn’t have substance and meaning.”
Biden has frequently spoken with the Floyd family to discuss policing reform legislation and their well-being. After former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, the president told the family he would ask Congress to pass policing reform measures and invite them to the White House when he signed the bill into law.
The Floyd family and their attorneys told reporters outside the White House that the meeting with Biden was personal and that they urged him to continue having conversations with civil rights organizations and leaders throughout negotiations over the bill. They also asked people listening to call Congress and demand that representatives pass policing reform. The appeals echoed similar calls made last month, when Crump, civil rights attorney Bakari Sellers, and the family of Andrew Brown Jr. spoke about his death in North Carolina.
“Call [Sen. Joe Manchin’s] office and tell him we’re tired of Black folk dying,” Sellers said during a press conference last month in North Carolina, urging listeners to push Democratic Sens. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to pass the legislation in the Senate, where it faces procedural roadblocks with the filibuster even if a compromise is reached. “Call their offices and tell them how you feel.“
Sellers told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that he doesn’t like looking at the issue of policing reform through a partisan framework. He highlighted the negotiations between Scott and Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Karen Bass, both Democrats, that have continued for weeks.
The Floyd family also met with Booker, Bass, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday.
“There are some hard-and-fast lines, but at the end of the day there is a lot of room to ensure that we have better policing in this country and, bluntly speaking, Black people stop dying during interactions with law enforcement,” Sellers said.
“If there’s a bill that doesn’t address qualified immunity, don’t even be disrespectful enough to have the families review it,” he said. “There’s room for compromise on qualified immunity.” He added that Congress could easily pass a policing reform bill that left the rule in place, but it “wouldn’t pass muster” with advocates.
Before Biden met with the Floyd family, press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing that the White House has continued to meet with civil rights leaders and police reform activists to gauge what measures they believe would work to address the issues. Last month, White House officials met with family members and attorneys of people killed by police officers.
Biden told reporters later on Tuesday that he’d spoken to the negotiators about their progress and that he was “hopeful” they would reach a deal after Memorial Day.
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