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Joe Biden wanted deal on George Floyd policing bill by 25 May – here’s why they missed the deadline

President wanted bill ‘done’ by anniversary of his death. Lawmakers now debating how to hold officers accountable for killing people in the line of duty

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 24 May 2021 22:44 BST
Black Lives Matter march held in Minneapolis in memory of George Floyd

Congress won’t meet Joe Biden’s deadline for getting critical police reform legislation on his desk, as a bipartisan group of lawmakers continue to debate how to hold officers accountable for killing people in the line of duty.

The president set a deadline of 25 May, one year after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, galvanising an international demand for justice for the killings of Black people by police and propelling reforms aimed at the future of policing across the US.

While the White House is encouraged by bipartisan negotiations, Congress has yet to agree on the contours of federal legislation to be named in Mr Floyd’s honour, with Democrats pushing for changes to a controversial policy that effectively prevents officers from facing prosecution.

In March, the House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which aims to overhaul “qualified immunity” policies. The bill also would change the threshold for permitting use of force, prohibit police chokeholds at the federal level, ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases, and create a national registry of police misconduct cases under the auspices of the Justice Department, among other reforms.

It does not “defund” police departments, despite Republicans repeatedly raising objections to the bill by pointing to widespread protests that called on municipal leadership to draft city budgets that route police funding into social services.

The House of Representatives passed a version of the bill last month without any Republican support on a vote of 220 to 212. A similar bill was passed in 2020 but languished in a then-GOP-controlled Senate.

In his address to a joint session of Congress on 28 April, Mr Biden urged lawmakers to “come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system, and to enact police reform in George Floyd’s name that passed the House already.”

“I know Republicans have their own ideas and are engaged in the very productive discussions with Democrats in the Senate,” he said. “We need to work together to find a consensus. But let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.”

Meanwhile, the White House quietly abandoned plans for a national commission on police oversight, first proposed during Mr Biden’s presidential campaign in 2020. Last month, Domestic Policy Council director Susan Rice said that a commission would not be the “most effective way” to implement reforms, based on “close, respectful consultation” with civil rights groups.

A bipartisan group including Republican Senator Tim Scott, Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Democratic US Rep Karen Bass are leading negotiations on a Senate version of the bill.

Following Chauvin’s conviction for Mr Floyd’s murder on 20 April, members of the Congressional Black Caucus revived calls to Congress to pass the House-backed measure, stressing that the jury’s decision was merely a “first step” towards justice.

A key element of police reform measures from Democrats is rolling back qualified immunity, a decades-old doctrine that grants law enforcement broad protections from criminal liability. Republicans have argued that weakening those protections could expose police officers and agencies to excessive lawsuits.

A compromise bill offered up by Republicans would retain immunity provisions for individual officers and instead allow victims or people alleging police misconduct to sue their police departments.

“One year ago, George Floyd’s murder awakened millions of people around the world who had never before witnessed the deadly consequences of the failures in our policing system,” the three lawmakers said in a joint statement on Monday. “This anniversary serves as a painful reminder of why we must make meaningful change.”

They added: “While we are still working through our differences on key issues, we continue to make progress toward a compromise and remain optimistic about the prospects of achieving that goal.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the president “is encouraged that there is ongoing progress, and that there is a sense from the negotiators that there’s a path forward, and he believes he can continue to press on that” despite falling short of the 25 May deadline.

Mr Biden will meet with members of Mr Floyd’s family on Tuesday, including his daughter Gianna, her mother Roxie Washington, and his sister, three brothers and a nephew.

Ms Psaki said that the meeting will remain private “in order to have a real conversation and preserve that with the family.”

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