US President Joe Biden speaks during a ceremony for the murdered US Capitol policeman William “Billy” Evans, who is in honor of the murdered US Capitol police officer in Washington, DC on April 13, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite | Pool | Reuters
President Joe Biden faces a difficult road to police reform as activists increasingly demand that his administration make tackling racial differences a priority in law enforcement.
Nation’s attention is on the issue during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer who was charged with the death of George Floyd, whose killing on Memorial Day sparked months of protests against Black Lives Matter. A judgment could come as early as next week.
Chauvin’s trial came amid a spate of high-profile police killings. During the trial, another black man, Daunte Wright, was shot dead by police officer Kimberly Potter in nearby Brooklyn Center in Minnesota, which sparked protests. Potter, who claimed she used a taser, has since resigned and has been charged with second degree manslaughter.
Protests escalated across the country after footage of the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by Chicago police officer Eric Stillman was released last week. Toledo, who was Latino, was killed on March 29th.
Law enforcement agencies have killed more than three people every day since March 29, according to a tally conducted by the New York Times. Blacks and Latinos made up more than half of those killed during the period, according to the Times.
Biden, who pledged to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system during his presidential campaign, did little in his first few months to please those hoping for reform. The Democrat, who earned a reputation in the Senate in the 1990s for being tough on crime, is facing political and legal headwinds.
At a press conference on Friday, Biden dodged answering a question about whether he would prioritize police reform instead of focusing on gun violence, which he was also asked about. White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined on Wednesday to say why the government had not taken executive action to recall federal military equipment from local police stations.
She said the White House is focused on what can be done with Congress, particularly through the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The bill would, among other things, ban choke holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level, restrict them at the state and local levels, and restrict the use of qualified immunity, a legal shield for the police against civil claims.
“I would say that this is a problem that President Biden’s term will cause,” said Psaki. “And we’re in for less than 100 days. More to come. For now, we’re focusing on working towards getting these laws passed.”
Also on Wednesday, the government dropped the plans to set up a police control commission announced during the campaign. Susan Rice, director of the Home Affairs Council, said in a statement first reported by Politico that the commission “would not be the most effective way to achieve our top priority in this area, which is to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law. “The government said civil rights groups and police unions oppose the formation of a commission.
Legally, the federal government’s role in overseeing policing is limited by the Constitution and Supreme Court precedents. While there are fewer than 100 federal law enforcement agencies, about 18,000 are under state and local control. Congress has the power to regulate local police forces in exchange for federal funds and to enforce the 14th Amendment, which prohibits states from “depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process.”
On Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland revitalized a tool the federal government must use to oversee local police forces by repealing a memorandum signed under former President Donald Trump that restricts the use of so-called consent decrees. The Department of Justice can use the decrees, which must be approved by a court, to force departments that repeatedly violate civil rights to undergo surveillance or other reforms.
However, the decrees were rarely applied, even before Trump severely restricted them. A report by the Congressional Research Service found that the Department of Justice has historically initiated about three sample or practice investigations per year, and only one in three has led to significant reforms.
Proponents and experts have suggested that Biden could undertake some federal reforms that would more broadly affect state and local police departments.
In February, two law professors specializing in police matters wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Biden, through executive order, could make federal law enforcement a “model for the rest of the nation” of transparency and accountability by collecting more data and providing data for the public.
Professors Barry Friedman of the New York University School of Law and Rachel Harmon of the University of Virginia School of Law also urged the Biden administration to require local law enforcement agencies to obtain federal funds and equipment to get their approval approved local legislature.
“A police chief should not be allowed to procure federal surveillance equipment or armored vehicles without a local buy-in,” they wrote, adding that Biden could take the step without Congress.
Political concerns also stand in the way of meaningful police reform.
During the 2020 campaign, Republicans used calls from progressives to “defuse” the police as a political hammer against moderate Democrats. One of Biden’s top allies in Congress, Rep. Jim Clyburn, DS.C., said the slogan harmed his party.
Biden has repeatedly stated that he does not support proposals to reduce police funding even though his administration continues to be repulsed by Republicans on the matter.
Kristen Clarke, Biden’s candidate for overseeing the Justice Department’s civil rights division, was pressured last week at her hearing to validate an opinion she wrote asking for certain police operations to be defused and more resources to be made available to others.
“I do not support defusing the police,” Clarke said at the hearing, speaking with Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Clarke is the president of the Civil Rights Advisory Committee.
The political thorniness of police reform is exacerbated by the narrow divide between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Democrats hold a slight majority in the House of Representatives, where they passed the law on justice in the police force by 220-212 last month.
However, the Senate is evenly split between 50 and 50. While Vice President Kamala Harris can cast votes, Democrats are still unlikely to be able to pass legislation in the upper chamber without substantial changes. The bill would likely take 60 votes in the Senate to become law.
The Republicans tabled their own police reform proposal last year, which differs in important ways from the laws introduced by the Democrats. Senator Tim Scott, RS.C., the only black Republican in the Senate, introduced the Justice Bill in June.
The Congressional Research Service, which analyzed the differences between the Democratic Justice in Policing Act and the Republican Justice Act, found that both had addressed “certain common issues” such as arrest warrants and choke holds.
However, the analysis found that the two bills took different approaches, with the Democratic bill more often requiring recipients of federal funds to restrict state and local law enforcement, and the Republican bill instead relying on “non-binding measures” rather than an emphasis on ” Collection of data on various law enforcement practices “.
The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the Republican bill for not going far enough. In a statement released at the law’s inauguration in June, a group representative said the legislation “raises billions of dollars in studies and commissions when we know the real problem at the heart of American police – blacks keep dying of” the hands of the police without consequence. “
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