(Washington, DC) – President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order to improve police accountability – a significant but limited action on the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death that reflected the challenges of the fight against racism, excessive use of force and public safety when Congress is deadlocked on stronger measures.
The tragedy-shaped event came one 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 remarks 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 taking action. We show that talking is important. Being engaged matters. That the work of our time, the healing of the soul of this nation, is in progress and unfinished and compels us all to never give up.
Floyd’s family was in the audience at the White House when the president said “what we do in their memory matters.” With lawmakers unable to reach agreement on how to reform policing policies or efforts to reduce mass shootings, the president has limited means to push through his campaign promises. And as he tries to reach a consensus, Biden is also trying to strike a balance between police and civil rights groups at a time when growing concerns about crime are overshadowing calls for reform.
Much of Biden’s order is focused on federal law enforcement agencies — for example, requiring them to review and revise use-of-force policies. It will also create a database to help track agent misconduct, according to the White House.
While the administration can’t require local police departments to participate in the database, which aims to keep problematic officers from moving from job to job, officials are looking at ways to use the funding. federal government to encourage their cooperation.
In addition, the order aims to restrict the flow of surplus military equipment to local police.
Many organizations and lawmakers said the order was an important but incomplete step forward.
“While this action may 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 both engaged with the Biden administration on the order. They said they “see many elements of the order as a blueprint for future congressional action.”
Yet not everyone was satisfied.
“President Biden’s executive order is a poor excuse for the public safety transformation he promised the black voters who nominated him,” the Movement for Black Lives, a civil rights group, said in a statement. communicated.
The killing of Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked nationwide protests two years ago. It was the largest series of protests in American history, occurring amid coronavirus shutdowns and President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
However, turning the initial outcry into political change has proven difficult.
When four officers were convicted last year of killing Floyd, Biden urged Congress to pass legislation to reform police before the anniversary of his death.
The guilty verdict was “not enough”, he said, and “we can’t stop there”.
However, no legislation was passed and bipartisan talks dragged on and then broke down.
The White House ultimately decided to move forward with executive actions rather than wait for Congress.
Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who helped lead the talks, said the order will improve transparency, accountability and policing standards. But he noted that further efforts will be needed for the police to improve their relationship with the people they must protect and serve.
“Across the United States, there is a trust deficit between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect — especially black and brown communities,” Booker said.
In September, the Justice Department restricted federal agents’ use of no-knock warrants — which allow law enforcement officers to enter a home without announcing their presence — and updated updated its policy to prohibit officers from using chokeholds in most circumstances.
But extending those rules to local police is more difficult, and White House officials have spent months negotiating with civil rights groups and police organizations.
The resulting set of policies is less extensive than originally anticipated, not to mention the one-year delay.
“We know very well that an executive order cannot solve the American police crisis in the same way that Congress has the ability to do, but we must do everything we can,” the president said. the NAACP, Derrick Johnson.
The order goes beyond misconduct and use of force issues. It also assesses the impact of facial recognition software on civil liberties, researches ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in federal correctional facilities, and suggests better ways to collect data on police practices.
Biden is just 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 2020 death aimed at curbing police brutality. It provided federal funds to departments that met certain accreditation standards on the use of force. One of the elements of the order called for the creation of a database of dismissals, criminal convictions and civil judgments against law enforcement officers for excessive use of force.
Former President Barack Obama also attempted to push for police reform through a task force he formed in 2014. One of the recommendations of this task force was the expansion of an already existing database of officers who had been decertified.
Associated Press writer Fatima Hussein contributed to this report.
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