President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to improve accountability in policing, a significant but limited action on the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death that reflected challenges in addressing racism. , excessive use of force, and public safety when Congress is deadlocked on stronger measures.
The one-tragedy event occurred a day after a second, mass shooting at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made comments that tried to comfort those affected by the shooting as well as those who suffered from police brutality, promising that change could eventually come despite partisan divisions on Capitol Hill.
“I know progress can be slow and frustrating,” Biden said. “Today we are performing. We’re showing that straight talk matters. Being engaged matters. That the work of our time, to heal the soul of this nation, is ongoing and unfinished and requires all of us to never give up.”
Floyd’s family was in the audience at the White House when the president declared that “what we do in his memory is important.” With lawmakers unable to agree on how to reform police policies or on efforts to reduce mass shootings, the president has limited avenues to advance his campaign promises. And while trying to build consensus, Biden is also trying to strike a balance between policing and civil rights groups at a time when rising crime concerns are overshadowing calls for reform.
Most of Biden’s order focuses on federal law enforcement agencies, for example, requiring them to review and modify policies on the use of force. He will also create a database to help track officer misconduct, according to the White House.
Although the administration cannot require local police departments to participate in the database, which is intended to prevent troublesome officers from jumping from job to job, officials are looking for ways to use federal funds to encourage their cooperation.
Additionally, the order is designed to restrict the flow of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement.
Many organizations and lawmakers said the order was an important but incomplete step forward.
“While this action does not have the long-term impact we hoped for,” Floyd family attorney Ben Crump said in a statement, “it represents incremental progress and we must commit to making progress every day.”
The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police committed to the Biden administration on the order. They said they “view many components of the order as a model for future action by Congress.”
However, not everyone was satisfied.
“President Biden’s executive order is a poor excuse for the public safety transformation he promised the black voters who put him in office,” the Movement for Black Lives, a civil rights group, said in a statement.
Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked protests across the country two years ago. It was the largest series of demonstrations in US history, occurring amid coronavirus lockdowns and President Donald Trump’s divisive re-election campaign.
However, it has been difficult to transform the initial protest into political change.
When four officers were convicted last year of killing Floyd, Biden urged Congress to pass legislation to reform policing before the anniversary of his death.
The guilty verdict was “not enough,” he said, and “we can’t stop here.”
However, no legislation was passed and bipartisan talks dragged on and then broke down.
The White House ultimately decided to go ahead with executive action rather than wait for Congress.
Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who helped lead the talks, said the order will improve police transparency, accountability and standards. But he noted that additional efforts will be needed for the police to improve relationships with the people they are meant to protect and serve.
“Across the United States, there is a trust deficit between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect, particularly Black and Latino communities,” Booker said.
In September, the Justice Department restricted federal agents’ use of unannounced warrants, which allow law enforcement officers to enter a home without announcing their presence, and updated its policy to prohibit officers from using keys throttling in most circumstances.
But extending such rules to local police is more challenging, and White House officials have spent months in negotiations with civil rights groups and law enforcement organizations.
The resulting set of policies is less comprehensive than originally intended, not to mention a one-year delay.
“We know very well that an executive order cannot address America’s policing crisis in the same way that Congress has the ability to, but we have to do everything we can,” said a statement from NAACP President Derrick. Johnson.
The order goes beyond issues related to misconduct and the use of force. It also assesses the impact of facial recognition software on civil liberties, looks at ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in federal correctional facilities, and suggests better ways to collect data on police practices.
Biden is only the latest president to sign an executive order on police reform. His predecessor, Trump, signed a similar order less than a month after Floyd’s death in 2020 aimed at curbing police brutality. He provided federal dollars to departments that met certain accreditation standards on use of force. One of the elements of the order required the establishment of a database that would track terminations, criminal convictions, and civil sentences against law enforcement officers for excessive use of force.
Former President Barack Obama also tried to push police reform through a task force he formed in 2014. One of the recommendations of that task force was the expansion of an existing database of officers who had been decertified.
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