Representative Karen Bass, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Democratic Black Caucus, speaks during an event with members of the Democratic Caucus on the steps of the Eastern Front of the U.S. Capitol prior to a vote on the George Floyd Justice in the Policing Act of 2020 in Washington, DC, on Thursday June 25, 2020.
Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Congress is expected to miss President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline for passing a police reform bill as negotiators decide how far the federal government should go to eradicate wrongdoing and law enforcement violence against black Americans.
On Tuesday, it was a year since 46-year-old Black George Floyd died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. While global calls for justice and law enforcement reforms last year sparked reforms or budget cuts in some cities and states, Congress has yet to exercise its power to change the American police force.
Non-partisan negotiators have worked for weeks tweaking the House-passed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to gain enough Republican support to get it through the Senate. A provision to curb qualified immunity, which protects police officers from most civil claims, is the greatest remaining barrier to settlement.
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The House has left Washington until next month, so lawmakers are unlikely to comply with Biden’s call for a bill to be passed by the year-old anniversary of Floyd’s death. The negotiators, which include Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., And Sens. Tim Scott, RS.C., and Cory Booker, DN.J., are expected to continue their talks this week.
“A year ago, the murder of George Floyd awakened millions of people around the world who had never before seen the deadly consequences of failure in our police system,” the three lawmakers said in a joint statement on Monday. “This anniversary is a painful reminder of why we need to make significant changes.”
“As we work on our differences on key issues, we continue to make progress towards a compromise and remain optimistic about the prospects of achieving that goal,” they continued.
Biden, who has been calling for the House bill passed, will meet with Floyd’s family on Tuesday. On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the meeting would be private and include Floyd’s daughter, mother and siblings.
Psaki said Biden was “hopeful that he can incorporate the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law”. She added that the White House is “engaged” to the congressional negotiators while they are “leaving room to work”. Biden spoke to Booker on Friday.
Democrats have called for qualified immunity to be withdrawn to hold officials accountable for violating civil rights or using excessive force, also because police killings rarely result in criminal convictions. Republicans have raised concerns that weakening the provision could expose officials to excessive lawsuits.
Scott has raised the prospect of holding divisions, not individual officers, liable in civil matters.
It is now unclear what qualified immunity compromise could win enough Democratic and Republican votes for a bill to get through Congress. A group of 10 progressives from the House of Representatives on Friday urged negotiators to “not only maintain but strengthen the provision of the elimination of qualified immunity as the talks progressed”.
Booker said Sunday he was “determined to get a provision” at this negotiating table that ends qualified immunity.
The Justice in Police Act passed by the House would ban chokeholds, carotid holds and search warrants at the federal level. It would also tie federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies to officials banning these practices. This would make it easier to track the police and create a national database of police misconduct.
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