George Floyd’s family meets with Biden and Harris, calls for movement on policing bill
WASHINGTON – The family of George Floyd met with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and congressional leaders Tuesday to mark one year since the killing of Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill let the anniversary of Floyd’s murder pass without coming to a deal on policing legislation in his honor, though they and the family used the solemn occasion to urge movement on a measure to hold law enforcement more accountable.
Floyd’s family met with Biden and Harris behind closed doors for about an hour Tuesday afternoon. Those at the White House included Floyd’s daughter Gianna, 7, and her mother, Roxie Washington; Floyd’s sister Bridgett; and Floyd’s three brothers and nephew.
Biden has maintained contact with Floyd’s family since last summer during his presidential campaign. Like many Americans, Biden said the video of Floyd’s murder personally affected him. After former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all charges by a Minneapolis jury, Biden called the family.
“If you can make federal laws to protect the bird, which is the bald eagle, then you can make federal laws to protect people of color,” Philonise Floyd said after the meeting at the White House, calling on Congress to pass policing legislation.
Biden said in a statement that the family “has shown extraordinary courage, especially his young daughter Gianna, who I met again today.”
Floyd’s brother Rodney said Biden and Harris offered their condolences.
“They asked us how we were doing,” he said. “Are we taking care of ourselves … and asked us all about how we’re feeling and what’s going on today about our brother. We’re thankful that they showed great concern.”
Harris, who as a senator introduced a bill in Floyd’s honor, said in a statement that the video of Floyd’s death “revealed to the country what Black Americans have known to be true for generations.”
“Congress must move swiftly and act with a sense of urgency. Passing legislation will not bring back those lives lost, but it will represent much needed progress,” she said. “We must address racial injustice wherever it exists. That is the work ahead.”
Before exiting the White House grounds, the family and their attorney held their fists in the air as Gianna said, “Say his name.”
“George Floyd,” they chanted in unison.
Floyd’s family also met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., on Capitol Hill. Bass is a lead negotiator on a policing bill aimed at holding law enforcement more accountable, working with Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., both of whom the family planned to meet with Tuesday afternoon.
During a news conference at the Capitol, Pelosi spoke of the widespread social justice protests that erupted after Floyd’s death.
“People around the world flooded the streets for days and weeks, nearly a year,” Pelosi said. “Gianna said, ‘My daddy will change the world.’ And indeed, her prediction is coming true.”
The lawmakers praised the family’s fortitude over the past year and listened to Floyd’s relatives call for passage of a policing bill as soon as possible.
“It’s an honor to be here with the family, but I stand here to renew the commitment that we will get this bill on President Biden’s desk,” Bass said, promising it would be “passed in a bipartisan manner.”
Biden had wanted a law by the anniversary of Floyd’s death.
“And what is important is that when it reaches President Biden’s desk is that it is a substantive piece of legislation and that is far more important than a specific date,” Bass continued.
“We all said enough is enough. We need to be able to set standards and procedures in place,” Philonise Floyd said at the news conference. “We need to be working together to make sure that people do not live in fear in America anymore. This is the land of the free, people fight to get here. Give them that opportunity to want to come here, not stay in places where they’re having trouble.”
A bill named after Floyd, which passed in the House this year, faces hurdles in the split Senate.
That bill was introduced last year by Bass, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Booker and Harris. It would ban police chokeholds, like the one used on Floyd, ban “no-knock” warrants that police can use to forcibly enter private property, expand the Justice Department’s ability to subpoena police departments for investigations, provide funding for state attorneys general to investigate police departments and create a national public registry of police misconduct and abuse.
Negotiations are largely stalled around the issue of whether to end qualified immunity for police officers, which would allow civilians to sue officers for on-duty abuses.
“I’m comfortable with people I’m negotiating with right now,” Scott, the only Black Republican senator, said of the negotiations last week.
“This anniversary serves as a painful reminder of why we must make meaningful change. 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,” Scott, Bass and Booker said in a joint statement Monday.
Though Biden has mostly taken a hands-off approach to the negotiations, allowing legislators to lead the bulk of talks, the White House said it is hearing input.
“We are very engaged with a range of groups around the country – civil rights groups, police reform groups and advocates – about what they think is going to work, and we have kept them abreast of what our strategy is,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday during a briefing.
Although he praised Democrats’ and Republicans’ “good-faith effort” on passing a meaningful bill, Biden called on Congress to get it “to my desk quickly.”
“We have to act. We face an inflection point. The battle for the soul of America has been a constant push and pull between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart,” Biden said. “At our best, the American ideal wins out. It must again.”
Biden told the family he would be patient “to make sure it’s the right bill, not a rushed bill,” said the family’s attorney Ben Crump.
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On the anniversary of Floyd’s murder, politicians renewed calls for racial justice.
“George Floyd was murdered one year ago today. Since then, hundreds more Americans have died in encounters with police – parents, sons, daughters, friends taken from us far too soon. But the last year has also given us reasons to hope,” former President Barack Obama wrote on Twitter. “Today, more people in more places are seeing the world more clearly than they did a year ago. It’s a tribute to all those who decided that this time would be different – and that they, in their own ways, would help make it different.”
“Since George Floyd’s murder one year ago today, there have been hundreds of officer-involved deaths in the U.S. To stop this, we need to bring transparency and accountability to policing,” Bass wrote on Twitter.
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Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_.
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.
Contributing: Savannah Behrmann