4 years after George Floyd’s death, Congress struggles with police reform

Four years after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, momentum in Washington to pass sweeping reform in the Minnesota man’s name has almost faded away completely. 

The death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, in May 2020 sparked outrage and calls for change. Sensing the deep anger across the United States, Democrats and Republicans in Congress put forward different bills in response less than a month after he was killed.

But as more time passes since a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes shocked the nation, there’s been little urgency about making the kind of sweeping changes that President Biden has wanted to see.   

“That’s the insult right there, not taking action,” Keeta Floyd, George’s sister-in-law, said. 

What happens on the issue moving forward could be decided by the 2024 elections as Mr. Biden contends with the prospect of his support softening with Black voters who are key to his effort to win the White House once more. 

There have been killings by police in the years since Floyd’s death, including in early 2023 when Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died in Tennessee. Not long after, South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott gave a speech faulting Democrats and politics for a lack of progress. 

Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, was the lead GOP negotiator on police reform and had authored a bill of his own after Floyd’s death that was blocked by Senate Democrats at a time when many in their party supported a farther-reaching effort of their own

“I hope that when the dust settles, and the issue is no longer on the front pages of our newspapers, no longer streaming across our TVs and our iPads and our computers, that we do something that says to the American people, we see your pain, we are willing to put our partisan labels and shirts and uniforms on the side, so that we can do what needs to be done,” Scott said in his speech last year. 

Less than a year and a half later, Scott is viewed as a potential running mate for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Scott’s office declined interview requests about the struggle to pass policing changes in Congress. 

Mr. Biden made addressing the stark issues brought to light by Floyd’s murder a focus of his 2020 presidential campaign. While Republicans and Democrats rallied behind separate bills in the weeks after Floyd was killed, no efforts came close to becoming law with Republican Donald Trump in the White House.  Early in his presidency when Mr. Biden addressed Congress for the first time, he used one of the biggest speeches of his life to call on Congress to finally find a path forward — and quickly. 

“We need to work together to find a consensus,” Mr. Biden said in April of 2021. “But let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.”

Despite bipartisan negotiations, Congress failed to meet the president’s timeline. And a few months later, the talks fell apart. Overhauling qualified immunity, which can protect law enforcement from civil lawsuits, was an issue Democrats cared deeply about but was strongly opposed by the GOP. 

Since then, attention on the issue in Congress has waned considerably. Republicans, in an attempt to portray themselves as the party of law and order, have continued to try and associate Democrats with the politically volatile “defund the police” slogan that was prominent after Floyd was killed, even though most congressional Democrats do not support that movement. 

The lack of action in Congress has come amid concerns about crime and worries about recruitment and staffing shortages for law enforcement during Mr. Biden’s time in office.  

The president has taken limited action that he can carry out unilaterally. Two years after Floyd was killed, Mr. Biden signed an executive order focused on federal law enforcement that included creating a National Law Enforcement Accountability Database. 

“We’ve made progress,” said Stephen Benjamin, a senior Biden White House adviser. “Are we where we used to be? Absolutely not. [Are we] where we want to be? Not just yet. But we’ll get there.” 

Far from Washington, policing in this day and age can be a deeply personal issue. 

Bridgette Stewart, a community activist in Minnesota joined dozens of people in blocking outside disruptors from entering the area where Floyd was killed in Minneapolis at the height of unrest across the city. Four years later, she says community-police relations are still strained.

 “Most Black neighborhoods in the United States of America where a Black man is killed, either at the hands of the police or by community, it’s just a neighborhood that doesn’t thrive,” Stewart said. 

For Nate Hamilton, who said he plans to vote for Biden, reforming police practices has been a mission since his brother Dontre Hamilton was shot 14 times and killed during a confrontation with a Milwaukee police officer in 2014. 

Hamilton believes police reform and accountability “is a national issue,” and voiced discontent with the federal government, from Congress to the Justice Department, for not doing enough follow up work on the cases like his brother’s.

“We thought that they were going to take a real look into how they can support individuals that have lost their lives, but most importantly their families, because their families are still the ones that are traumatized,” he said. 

There is recognition within the law enforcement community that in parts of the country, local police responded to the outcry that followed Floyd’s death by making changes. 

“There’s a perception that [because] Congress didn’t pass a reform bill, that somehow there’s not reform across this country,” Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes said. “I don’t think that’s really the case. Each one of these local jurisdictions engage in discussions with the people involved, in finding ways to improve the criminal justice system.” 

But for Floyd’s family, congressional inaction stings, even as Biden and other Democrats have continued to call for reform to become law. 

That doesn’t mean they fault Biden however as he runs for re-election this fall. 

“I do feel 100% comfortable saying that the Biden administration has done what they could do,” Keeta Floyd, George’s sister-in-law, said. 

Members of George Floyd’s family appeared on Capitol Hill earlier this week to mark a renewed effort by Democrats to pass an overhaul of policing in his name. Though earlier versions passed the Democrat-controlled House in 2020 and 2021, the bill is almost certain not to pass this year, given that Republicans now hold the House. 

Despite the political setbacks the Floyd family has faced on the issue, George’s brother, Philonise Floyd, has kept visiting Washington over the years, making his case for change to pass at long last. 

“My brother’s life was stolen,” Philonise Floyd said in Capitol Hill earlier this week. “So many other people’s lives was stolen from them.” 

Original CBS News Link</a