Bridgett Floyd said she could barely find the words to describe her disappointment in lawmakers for failing to pass sweeping police reform legislation that bears her brother George Floyd’s name.
“I’m past upset, I’m past angry,” she told CNN this week.
The Floyd family, she said, waited more than a year for lawmakers to enact a law they hoped would curb police brutality against Black and brown people. They lobbied for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act at marches, rallies, visited the White House and believed President Joe Biden when he promised the family he would get the legislation passed, Floyd said.
But last week, the bipartisan talks around overhauling policing laws ended without a deal. Democrats Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Karen Bass and Republican Sen. Tim Scott had spent the last six months leading negotiations. An agreement was stalled by a number of complicated issues including qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police officers from being sued in civil court.
Floyd said while she hoped lawmakers would reach a deal, she was always wary of whether Biden would keep his word.
“Deep down in my gut I had a feeling that this was going to happen,” she said. “People are out here in desperate need (for police reform) and I don’t feel that Biden is stepping up as the President and doing the right thing.”
A White House official said in a statement late Wednesday that Biden “is firmly committed to police reform that stops heartbreaking, unjustifiable tragedies like George Floyd’s murder and restores trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
“At his direction, the White House and the Justice Department worked directly with Sen. Booker and Rep. Bass to support any need they had in the police reform negotiations, while giving them the space they requested to make their good faith effort,” the official said. “Yet, even after they secure the backing of major law enforcement organizations — a bar set by Republican negotiators — the reform effort was blocked by the GOP.”
Civil rights leaders have condemned the Senate for ending talks around overhauling policing laws with some saying lawmakers betrayed Black and brown families who have lost loved ones to police violence.
The collapsed negotiations, activists say, signals that cries from protesters who have marched in the streets for the last several years continue to go unanswered. Their calls became louder last year during uprisings across the country following Floyd’s death. And with the legislative filibuster blocking Senate Democrats from implementing police reform without enough Republican support, the fate of police reform legislation remains uncertain. Still, civil rights leaders and victim families insist they aren’t giving up their fight for police accountability.
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, called it “disconcerting” that lawmakers were not able to strike a deal.
Morial said the legislation is “sorely needed” because Black and brown people continue to be killed by police and police reform is a key concern for many Americans. However, Morial said he was concerned that Scott and other Republicans wanted a watered down version of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that civil rights leaders will not accept.
“I’m not willing to support lipstick on a pig or a piece of legislation that doesn’t meet the demands of the people who protested or the victims of police brutality,” Morial said.
‘We want them to be accountable’
Some victims’ families noted that earlier this year lawmakers moved faster on bills to combat the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and make Juneteenth a federal holiday while police reform hung in the balance.
Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, told CNN’s Boris Sanchez earlier this week that she was hopeful lawmakers would pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Now she’s urging them to go back to the table.
“Other bills, they pass so quickly but when it comes to police reform or seeing that the police do the right thing, that’s what we want,” Carr said. “We want transparency. We want them to be accountable for if they do wrong. They can’t come to an agreement with that? What is the problem?”
Lawmakers struggled to reach a deal
Scott, Booker and Bass have all promised to continue their efforts to pass federal legislation.
A spokeswoman for Scott said he was unavailable for further comment.
However, he released a statement last week saying that by walking away from negotiations Democrats “squandered a crucial opportunity to implement meaningful reform.”
“I made a promise to never walk away from the table because walking away means we’re giving up on the communities and officers whose lives hang in the balance,” Scott said. “I’ve heard from and spoken to the families of the victims who have lost their lives at the hands of police. The areas where we agreed — banning chokeholds, limiting the transfer of military equipment, increased mental health resources, and more — would have brought justice to these families.”
While Booker wasn’t available for comment on this story, he told CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier this week that lawmakers were not making progress at the negotiating table. He said he takes responsibility for the struggle to get police reform and he isn’t giving up.
“I am going to continue to work,” Booker said. “We’ve got to continue to work on getting real transparency with policing in America.”
Bass, who also wasn’t available for an interview in time for publication, said last week that talks ended because “at a certain point, you have to recognize that you’re just spinning your wheels.”
“We accepted significant compromises, knowing that they would be a tough sell to our community, but still believing that we would be moving the needle forward on this issue,” Bass said in a statement released last week. “But every time, more was demanded to the point that there would be no progress made in the bill that we were left discussing.”
A ‘filibuster environment’
Some racial justice activists said they weren’t surprised when talks around overhauling policing laws broke down.
Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, said lawmakers were attempting to negotiate in a “filibuster environment” that continues to suppress civil rights legislation. Black leaders have criticized Biden for not taking an aggressive stance on Congress eliminating the filibuster.
Voters of color turned out in record numbers last year to elect Democrats to Congress, Robinson said, and they are being let down.
“It’s unacceptable that our leaders continue to fail to deliver,” Robinson said. “The Democrats got the majority and they can’t keep telling our community to put aside our safety, our dignity, our humanity in the face of unchecked violent policing.”
Amara Enyia, policy and research coordinator for Movement for Black Lives, said she expected Democrats would face an uphill battle with police reform given the Senate remains divided over its provisions.
While lawmakers debated the policing bill, Enyia said M4BL drafted an alternative bill called the BREATHE Act, which creates a framework to reimagine public safety and inspire local, state and federal legislation.
The bill calls on elected officials to divest from police agencies, and invest in non-punitive approaches to community safety, public health, housing, reentry and other programs for Black and brown neighborhoods. Enyia said she believes the BREATHE Act would be more effective than legislation focused solely on policing. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act does not “meet the demands of this moment,” Enyia said.
“At some point we have to be willing to do things differently,” she continued. “It’s about how do we invest in the things that create strong individuals and strong communities and how do we get to the root cases of the public safety challenges.”