George Floyd dishonored by lack of bipartisan support, action from Biden on police reform
Biden rolled into office pledging to have the back of the Black community. Punting police reform to Congress was a crisis of political will.
President Joe Biden’s legacy was dealt another blow when negotiations for bipartisan police reform halted Wednesday.
Following months of talks headed by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott R-S.C., and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., irreconcilable differences on the substance and scope of the police reform bill dashed hopes for what could’ve been landmark legislation. “After months of exhausting every possible pathway to a bipartisan deal, it remains out of reach right now," Booker lamented in a statement. “The time has come to explore all other options to achieve meaningful and common sense policing reform."
The president echoed Booker’s sentiments: "I still hope to sign into law a comprehensive and meaningful police reform bill that honors the name and memory of George Floyd, because we need legislation to ensure lasting and meaningful change. But this moment demands action, and we cannot allow those who stand in the way of progress to prevent us from answering the call."
Biden rolled into office pledging to have the back of the Black community. Everything he does must be measured against that promise. The fact that he punted this issue to Congress is not just a crisis of policy, it’s also a crisis of imagination and political will.
Given the gulf between what Democrats and Republicans wanted, the end of negotiations is unsurprising. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed on a near party line vote in March, which suggests that the only thing bipartisan about police reform is lip service – both parties claim to understand that the most egregious acts of police violence, as we saw when Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd last year, are a problem.
It became clear early that the substantive and transformative police reform truly needed would not come from these negotiations. First, there was the missed deadline to have something on the president’s desk by May 25, the first anniversary of Floyd’s tragic murder. Then came the back and forth over ending qualified immunity, which protects abusive officers from civil suits. Democrats wanted it; Republicans didn’t. So negotiators removed it from the bill last month. If what remained after the multiple rounds of compromising had passed in Floyd’s name, it would’ve been status quo legislation that didn't live up to the legacy of a man whose murder moved the world to action.
But since what was left – relatively benign things like creating databases of bad cops, ending no-knock warrants and providing mental health services – couldn't earn bipartisan support, it’s time for the president and congressional Democrats to be the adults in the room and use every tool in the toolbox to make police reform happen.
Biden should issue a moratorium on the 1033 program, which transfers military equipment to police departments. The president should also use the bully pulpit to expand the size and scope of this conversation. The Department of Justice this month issued new policies for federal law enforcement covering, among other things, chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
While that's a step in the right direction, efforts like this wouldn't have saved Floyd's life, and won't help the vast numbers of Black men who, like Floyd, are brutalized and killed by state and local law enforcement.
Real safety is not just about Black people (or all people) being free from the tyranny of over-policing and police violence. Safety is also about having access to affordable housing in clean environments, quality education, health care and good paying jobs. The president must make clear that over-policing and the living conditions forced on so many Black people are unacceptable. Changing one without the other is incomplete.
Congress also has legislative options. The reconciliation bill makes the sort of historic investments in health care, jobs and the environment that Black and other communities of color have been lacking for generations. The BREATHE Act divests funds from incarceration and policing and invests them into communities with the most need.
The People's Response Act, introduced by Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., would invest in mental health care, first responders who don’t carry lethal weapons, and violence interruption. Congress must pass these important measures. The president must sign them.
The quest to honor Floyd may have paused, but if Biden really wants to honor his memory, signing legislation to overhaul policing and making investments in the people and communities Floyd loved most would be a great start.