Determined to turn their loved one’s tragic death into substantive policy change, George Floyd’s relatives met with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Congressional lawmakers to continue pushing for police reform.
Tuesday’s meeting in the Oval Office lasted about an hour. Among those present were Floyd’s seven-year-old daughter Gianna Floyd; her mother, Roxie Washington; brothers Philonise Floyd, Rodney Floyd, Terrence Floyd, and a nephew, Brandon Williams. Joining them was civil rights attorney Ben Crump, a key member of the family’s legal team.
“Although it has been one year since their beloved brother and father was murdered, for the family – for any family experiencing a profound loss – the first year can still feel like they got the news a few seconds ago,” said Biden in a statement. “And they’ve had to re-live that pain and grief each and every time those horrific 9 minutes and 29 seconds have been replayed.”
Yet Floyd’s relatives have shown “extraordinary courage,” the president said, offering special praise to Gianna. “The day before her father’s funeral a year ago, Jill and I met the family and she told me, `Daddy changed the world.’ He has.”
Floyd died on May 25, 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis police. In cell phone video captured by teen Darnella Frazier that went viral, ex-officer Derek Chauvin was shown kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. He was convicted in April 2021 of murder and manslaughter and awaits sentencing in June. A trial for the three other former officers involved is scheduled to begin in August.
In recent days, commemorative rallies, vigils and related events have taken place around the country and beyond. For the Memorial Day weekend, the George Floyd Foundation (GFF) is hosting a commemorative concert in Houston, Texas at the Fountain of Praise Church where his funeral was held.
“One year ago, a cellphone video revealed to the country what Black Americans have known to be true for generations,” said VP Harris, in a statement following the discussion with Floyd’s family. “The verdict finding Derek Chauvin guilty of murder provided some measure of justice. But one verdict does not address the persistent issue of police misconduct and use of excessive force. It does not take away the Floyd family’s pain, nor the pain of all those families who have grieved the untimely loss of a loved one. We need to do more….We must address racial injustice wherever it exists. That is the work ahead.”
The family is pushing to advance passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (JPA) in Congress. After Floyd’s death, then-Senator Harris, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) introduced a measure in the 116th Congress intended to hold law enforcement accountable and help build trust between law enforcement and the communities it serves.
The measure was re-introduced in the 117th Congress by Bass and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The legislation would ban chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level. It would prohibit racial and religious profiling, and mandate training. The bill would also eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement, establish national standards for police departments and launch a National Police Misconduct Registry to collect data about police encounters. It would streamline laws to prosecute excessive force, and establish independent prosecutors for police investigations. There would be investments in community-based policing and more.
The bill passed the House in March 2021, but has stalled in the Senate. Negotiations continue in earnest, led by Booker, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bass. The family held separate meetings with the lawmakers as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) which backs the bill, said the “fight for all those who have died or been injured senselessly by law enforcement,” continues. “Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Andre Hill, Casey Goodson, Jr., Ma’Khia Bryant, Tamir Rice, and George Floyd should be alive,” she said in a statement provided to ESSENCE. “Unfortunately, nothing will ever bring them back or undo the unimaginable heartache and loss their family, friends, and our communities have had to endure, but we can turn agony into action. The American people are demanding change, transparency, accountability, and equal justice. That is why I am calling on the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act immediately.”
Biden said a bi-partisan measure to ensure strong police reform is critical. “To deliver real change, we must have accountability when law enforcement officers violate their oaths, and we need to build lasting trust between the vast majority of the men and women who wear the badge honorably and the communities they are sworn to serve and protect,” said the president. “We can and must have both accountability and trust in our justice system.” He added, “It’s my hope they will get a bill to my desk quickly.”
However, some legal advocates are wary that the legislation does not prevent police brutality. Derecka Purnell is a Harvard-trained lawyer and organizer who works to end police and prison violence by providing legal assistance, research, and training to community-based organizations via an abolitionist framework.
“Most of what will happen to police will happen AFTER somebody has been killed. It does not reduce contact between police and Black people, it does not change the conditions upon which cops arrest and profile, it does not reduce racism and inequality,” Purnell remarked on Twitter.
She favors The BREATHE Act, a police reform bill from The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL). The omnibus measure proposes to divest taxpayer dollars from policing and invest in alternate community-based approaches to public safety. Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) have endorsed it. “I was glad to join the Movement for Black Lives…to demand that our government put an end to the racist policies and systems of oppression that for too long have failed to center the dignity and humanity of our people,” said Pressley when the bill was first presented to the public.
As Congressional negotiations continue and certain issues such as qualified immunity for officers have reportedly proven challenging, Crump told reporters, “We all want better policing. This is an American issue.”
Philonise Floyd termed the sit down a “great” meeting. “He’s a genuine guy,” he said of the president. “They [Biden and Harris] always speak from the heart and it’s a pleasure just to be able to have a chance to meet with them when we have the opportunity to.”
Outside on the White House lawn, Floyd’s loved ones and legal team collectively raised their fists and shouted “Say his name!” and “George Floyd!” in unison. Fittingly, young Gianna led the clarion call for justice.