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Biden urges Congress to not look away from George Floyd

Biden promised George Floyd’s family to fight for policing reforms. He needs Congress to act.

President Biden and Vice President Harris addressed the country after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
Evan Vucci/AP

After the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, President Joe Biden pleaded with the nation — and Congress — not to look away.

“This can be a moment of significant change,” Biden said on Tuesday. “We can’t leave this moment thinking our work is done. We have to look at those 9 minutes and 29 seconds; we have to listen.”

Biden said he spoke to Floyd’s family after the verdict came down on Tuesday night. The president said he told them he would “continue to fight” to pass the bill that bears Floyd’s name, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, through Congress.

“We’re going to do a lot; we’re going to stay at it until we get it done,” Biden told Floyd’s family in a phone call after the verdict that was recorded on video by the Floyd family’s attorney Ben Crump. “That and a lot more. … This gives us a shot to deal with genuine, systemic racism.”

“Nothing can ever bring their brother, their father back,” Biden said. “But this can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America. It is the work we do every day to change hearts and minds as well as laws and policies. Only then will full justice and full equality be delivered to all Americans.”

It will be an uphill battle to deliver on that promise. Biden may be president, but he is still limited by what he can do alone on the issues of criminal justice and policing. In his Tuesday night speech, the president mentioned two of his nominees for the US Department of Justice who have a long history of focusing on civil rights. But without action from Congress, Biden’s plea will just be another heartfelt speech.

Close to a year since Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, the president made a direct appeal to a slow-moving Congress not to delay any longer.

“We also need Congress to act,” Biden said. “George Floyd was murdered a year ago. There is meaningful police reform legislation under his name. It should not take a whole year to get it done.”

Where the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act stands in Congress

First introduced last year by senators including current Vice President Kamala Harris, the Justice in Policing Act once again passed the Democratic-controlled House in March. It awaits movement in the US Senate, where Democrats have the majority by just one vote.

The policing reform bill only has a shot of passage if the 60-vote Senate filibuster requirement is eliminated, and if Senate Democrats stay united to all vote for it. Among other provisions, the bill would ban chokeholds and end qualified immunity for officers, a legal doctrine that sets an especially high bar to sue police officers for misconduct.

Senate Republicans don’t support the bill and have offered their own version — the JUSTICE Act — which mainly would improve data collection on police use of force and “no knock” warrants, and calls on state and local police to more thorough document misconduct.

“There’s no question in my mind that the jury reached the right verdict” in the Chauvin trial, Republican Sen. Tim Scott (SC), the Senate GOP’s only Black Republican and a main sponsor of the JUSTICE Act, said in a statement Tuesday. Even so, Democrats and Republicans in Congress remain far apart on a solution to police killings of unarmed Black people.

“This is not just about one officer, or one police department,” Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), the first vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told the New York Times’s Luke Broadwater on Tuesday, reacting to the Chauvin verdict. “This is about a system that we still need to reform. We need the Senate to act, because until the legislation is brought up and passed and signed by the President, every single day Black families are waking up to more incidents.”

Horsford said that a bipartisan group, including Scott and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), are meeting to find consensus on what Republicans and Democrats can agree on. But many Senate Republicans object to Democrats’ provision to end qualified immunity for police officers, and think the scope of the Justice in Policing Act is too large.

The bill is set to be heard next month in the Senate Judiciary Committee, meaning a final vote may not come until late spring or summer. Black members of Congress told reporters that they, like Biden, hoped the Chauvin verdict was the start of a sea change in the country, prompting real progress for Black people who are all too familiar with systemic and institutional racism in America.

“Hopefully this is the beginning of a turning point in our country,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). “Where people who have seen this trauma over and over again will know that we have equal protection under the law.”

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