(Washington, D.C.) — President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to improve accountability in policing — a meaningful but limited action on the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death that reflected the challenges in addressing racism, excessive use of force and public safety when Congress is deadlocked on stronger measures.
This tragedy was the catalyst for an event that occurred just a few days after another one: a massacre at Texas Elementary School, which resulted in 19 victims and two teachers being killed. Biden and Kamala Harris, Vice President Kamala Harris made remarks to offer comfort for those hurt by the shootings as well as those who suffered brutality from the police. They also promised that there would be change despite the political divisions at Capitol Hill.
“I know progress can be slow and frustrating,” Biden said. “Today we’re acting. We’re showing that speaking out matters. Engagement is important. That the work of our time, healing the soul of this nation, is ongoing and unfinished and requires all of us never to give up.”
Floyd’s family was in the audience at the White House as the president declared that “what we do in their memory matters.” With lawmakers unable to reach agreement on how to reform police policies or on efforts to reduce mass shootings, the president has limited avenues for advancing his campaign promises. As he attempts to reach consensus, Biden also seeks to balance civil rights and police groups in a moment when growing concerns over crime have eclipsed calls for reform.
Most of Biden’s order is focused on federal law enforcement agencies — for example, requiring them to review and revise policies on use of force. According to the White House, it will create a database that can be used to track misconduct by officers.
Officials are exploring ways for federal funding to increase cooperation, even though the Administration cannot force local police to join the database. This is to keep problem officers from jumping from one job to another.
Additionally, this order will restrict military equipment that is not required for local law enforcement.
Many lawmakers and organizations agreed that this order represented a positive step but not enough.
“While this action does not have the long-term impact that we had hoped for,” Floyd family lawyer Ben Crump said in a statement, “it does represent incremental progress, and we need to commit ourselves to making progress every day.”
On the issue of the order, the International Association of Chiefs of Police as well as the Fraternal Order of Police partnered with Biden. They said that they “see many components of the order as a blueprint for future congressional action.”
However, not all were satisfied.
“President Biden’s executive order is a poor excuse for the transformation of public safety that 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 killing by Minneapolis police sparked nationwide protests two years ago. It was the largest series of demonstrations in American history, occurring in the midst of coronavirus lockdowns and President Donald Trump’s divisive reelection campaign.
It has been difficult to transform the outcry into political action.
Biden called on Congress to adopt legislation reforming police in the wake of Floyd’s murder conviction, which was handed down by four officers last year.
The guilty verdict was “not enough,” he said, and “we can’t stop here.”
However, legislation never passed and the bipartisan negotiations dragged on. They eventually ended in failure.
The White House decided that it was better to take executive action than wait for Congress.
New Jersey Democrat Sen. Cory Booker was a key figure in the discussions. However, he said that police officers will have to put in additional effort to build relationships with their constituents.
“Across the United States, there is a deficit of trust between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect – particularly Black and Brown communities,” Booker said.
In September, the Justice Department curtailed federal agents’ use of no-knock warrants — which allow law enforcement agents to enter a home without announcing their presence — and updated its policy to prohibit agents from using chokeholds in most circumstances.
It is much more complicated to extend such rules to local police. White House officials have been engaged in lengthy negotiations with civil rights organizations and police agencies.
This resulted in a smaller set of policies than was originally requested, as well as a delay of one year.
“We know full well that an executive order cannot address America’s policing crisis the same way Congress has the ability to, but we’ve got to do everything we can,” said a statement from NAACP President Derrick Johnson.
It covers issues other than misconduct and force. The order also examines the effects of facial recognition software upon civil liberties and looks for ways that COVID-19 can be contained in federal correctional institutions. It also suggests ways to better collect information about police practices.
Biden is the latest president who has signed an executive order regarding police reform. His predecessor, Trump, signed a similar order less than a month after Floyd’s death in 2020 aimed at curbing police brutality. The order provided federal funds to those departments who met specific credentialing requirements regarding the use force. The order included the creation of a database to track terminations, criminal convictions, and civil judgments against law enforcement officers who use excessive force.
A task force that Obama created in 2014 was also set up to promote reform of police forces. One of that task force’s recommendations was an expansion of an already existing database of officers who had been decertified.
Fatima Hassein (Associated Press) contributed to this article.
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