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A Year After George Floyd’s Murder, Democrats Are Selling Out to the Cops

The party is set to weaken the already-feeble legislation named after Floyd.

A portrait of George Floyd by Peyton Scott Russell at East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Lorie Shaull/Flickr

Today marks one year since former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. While Floyd’s death became synonymous with the international uprisings against American policing that followed, much of today has focused on Floyd the person, not Floyd the symbol.

And reasonably so — for all the cultural shifts around policing and Black Lives Matter that have happened as a result of his death, his life was far more important, especially to the people who loved him. No one deserves the dehumanization that comes with being made a martyr.

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But Floyd’s murder has been given political significance, and so it was not shocking when, last month, President Joe Biden made today his deadline for when he wanted the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act delivered to his desk to be signed.

Well, Congress has blown through Biden’s gesture. There is no bill for Biden to sign. From Politico‘s news on the missed deadline, emphasis mine:

“I would be shocked if anything happened as soon as tomorrow. I was briefed as soon as last week,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Dem, told Burgess.

Durbin said he and other negotiators felt good about the status of the talks until staff dug into the nitty gritty. Then, they realized there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Other senators involved include Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), plus Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) in the House. […]

Still, members of both parties say they’re making progress. Scott said there was a “conscious effort” to keep both sides at the table negotiating, rather than have both sides just sitting at a table “debating back and forth.”

“We need to find areas of compromise. We found some. So I’m optimistic,” Scott told Nick.

After meeting with Floyd’s family today, Biden issued a statement long on platitudes and short on specifics, which read in part, “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. At our best, the American ideal wins out.” OK, thanks.

It’s not stunning that the police reform bill is going to get even weaker in order to attract Republican votes. But it’s especially demoralizing when you consider that the George Floyd Act, in the form that it passed in the House months ago, was already a deeply unsatisfactory bill.

I think a lot about this piece about the bill by Derecka Purnell for the Guardian. As she pointed out, the bill aims to ban racial profiling in policing, end qualified immunity for police, and ban chokeholds — all fine measures, but measures that wouldn’t have done anything help Floyd who was killed by a knee on his neck, not a chokehold. The bill would also aim to demilitarize the police, end no-knock warrants, and create a national registry of officers who commit crimes, efforts that could have theoretically saved Breonna Taylor or shielded last summer’s protesters from injury (if, that is, they were actually enforced, which is an open question), but still not Floyd himself. It would do these things not by defunding the police but by giving them millions of dollars in grants.

“Protesters have been demanding to defund the police to keep us safe; not spend millions of dollars to investigate how we die,” Purnell wrote. “We know how we die – the police.”

So what in the George Floyd Act is up for negotiation this time around? Apparently, further compromise may take qualified immunity, one of the stronger elements for police accountability off the table, according to Politico. And White House correspondent April D. Ryan has even more depressing news. From Ryan’s blog on theGrio, emphasis mine:

Various congressional leaders who spoke with theGrio had previously said they couldn’t pinpoint the stall in the negotiations, however, a high-ranking Democrat — who asked to remain anonymous as Democrats and Republicans on the Hill continue to negotiate the bill — tells theGrio that what is holding up the police reform act in George Floyd’s honor is Republicans seeking buy-in from police organizations before making any concessions.

Any opposition from law enforcement organizations “is a real obstacle to moving forward” for Republican members of Congress, said the Democratic source.

“It’s going to be very important in the next couple of days as the negotiations proceed that some of the national law enforcement agencies cease their opposition and begin to work with the House and the Senate to move this legislation forward,” the source tells theGrio.

I suppose a watered-down bill such as this was still bound to ruffle some police union-backed feathers. Still, it’s not enough to only blame Republicans for being unwilling to budge. As Purnell wrote in March, “Top Democrats will hide behind these arguments [about bipartisan support] to suggest that they will not find support for more progressive legislation. But political will starts with them to plant the seeds among their colleagues to make this possible. They cannot use their Republican colleagues as a shield from criticism when it is actually them, Democrats, who are not committed to more transformational policies.”

All in all, it’s a dismal showing, a sign of how little the establishment actually wants things to change.

Through all of this, though, I’m still thinking about Floyd’s family. Amid the devastating and retraumatizing circumstances of their trip to D.C., I hope they have been able to put themselves first in some way today.