An attorney for the family of George Floyd said Tuesday that police reform bearing his name must be “meaningful,” warning against any watering-down of federal legislation aimed at reducing injustices in law enforcement.
Tuesday marks the one year anniversary of Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a killing that sparked nationwide protests, some of which turned violent, amid a broader reckoning with issues of racism and discriminatory policing. The anniversary has shed fresh light on congressional efforts to craft a bipartisan police reform bill and the policy divisions that must be bridged for lawmakers to strike a compromise.
“America is finally having this conversation about racial reckoning, but that’s just talk if we don’t act. Now is the time to act,” Ben Crump, the family’s attorney, said Tuesday morning on CNN. “Let’s do it in the name of George Floyd and all the others that have been taken from us unjustly by the very people who are supposed to protect and serve us.”
Crump also pushed lawmakers not to squander an opening for sizable reforms by weakening legislation currently under negotiation on Capitol Hill in an effort to get it passed by an-oft sclerotic Congress. In March the House passed a sweeping overhaul, albeit along a largely party-line vote, that has been the jumping-off point for talks since.
“If you’re going to have this legislation bear George Floyd’s name, it has to be meaningful because their blood is on this legislation,” Crump said, referring to Floyd and other Americans who have been killed by police.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including the sole Black Republican senator — Tim Scott of South Carolina — have been enmeshed in negotiations in recent weeks to effect changes in response to the deaths of Floyd and others. Those involved continue to express optimism that an agreement can be reached, though negotiators are all but certain to miss the one-year-anniversary deadline President Joe Biden had set for legislation to reach his desk.
“We want to get this deal right and not quick, and I’m very encouraged,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-.N.J.), a chief negotiator for Senate Democrats on the issue, said on CBS “This Morning.”
Among the sticking points in police reform negotiations has been the subject of qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement officers from civil lawsuits. The elimination of qualified immunity is a priority for many Democrats in any police reform legislation and was included in the House-passed version of the bill. But Senate Republicans, at least 10 of whom would need to vote for the police reform package for it to pass, remain uniformly opposed to lifting qualified immunity.
Booker said “there’s still some gulfs to bridge” — and not just on the issue of qualified immunity. “We have to make progress here. We cannot lose this moment.”
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest ranking Black lawmaker, said earlier this month that he could be willing to forego an end to qualified immunity for law enforcement in order to secure broader police reforms. But House progressives, whose support is critical in their narrowly divided chamber, wrote in a letter this week to congressional leadership that removing qualified immunity remains a priority for them, stopping just short of a threat to withhold their votes if it remains intact in the Senate legislation.
“It should not be watered down,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), one of the letter’s signatories, said Tuesday on MSNBC. “It is one of the strongest and most important provisions of this bill.”
Clyburn said earlier Tuesday on MSNBC that a “half loaf” solution on qualified immunity is better than the status quo and he does not want it to be an impediment to a deal.
“I would hope that these negotiations will come up with a very good definition for what qualified immunity is, and that we can agree to something that both sides will be relatively satisfied with,” Clyburn said. “You never get all that you want, but I would hope we will get something between no loaf and the full loaf.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he recently met with Booker to go over the state of the discussions and that “they can see the finish line.”
“They are reaching it, but they aren’t there yet,” Durbin said on CNN. “There’s still critical decisions to be made.”
Floyd’s family is scheduled to meet with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House Tuesday afternoon. The family will also meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), House Democrats’ lead negotiator on police reform.
“I think things have changed,” George Floyd’s brother, Philonise, said in the same CNN interview. “I think it’s moving slowly, but it’s making progress.”
Philonise said his sister called him at midnight on Tuesday to reflect on the start of the anniversary of Floyd’s death, a moment he said was “just devastating.”
Chauvin was convicted in April of several felony charges — including murder — for pinning his knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes. Three other officers who were at the scene also face charges for their role in the fatal encounter.