George Floyd family urges Biden to pass police reform bill as it stalls in Senate

Floyd’s brother describes Biden as a ‘genuine guy’ but urged him to pass a law ‘to protect people of color’ at White House meeting

“Say his name,” said seven-year-old Gianna Floyd. In bright sunshine outside the west wing of the White House, family members and lawyers raised their fists and said her father’s name in chorus: “George Floyd!”

They were marking exactly one year since the police murder of Floyd, an African American man, in Minneapolis shook America with months of nationwide protests against racial injustice and demands for police reform.

On Tuesday the family brought that conversation to Washington. Joe Biden, whose own family has been haunted by grief, apparently demonstrated an empathy many found lacking in his predecessor, Donald Trump, during a private meeting of more than an hour.

Floyd’s brother, Philonise described Biden as a “genuine guy” and told reporters the family had a “great” discussion with him and Vice-President Kamala Harris. “They always speak from the heart and it’s a pleasure just to be able to have the chance to meet with them when we have that opportunity to,” he said.

According to a pooled report, Biden, who later travelled to Wilmington, Delaware, to attend the funeral of a former staff member, reflected on the anniversary. “It takes a lot of courage to go through it,” he said of the Floyd family. “And they’ve been wonderful.”

Asked about Gianna, Biden said the first thing she did was run to him and give him a hug, then ask for snacks. Gianna had Cheetos and milk, he added before joking: “My wife’s going to kill me.”’

A marine holds the door as Gianna Floyd, the daughter of George Floyd, walks into the White House.
A marine holds the door as Gianna Floyd, the daughter of George Floyd, walks into the White House. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

America’s racial reckoning across business, culture and society has not yet been matched by legislative action. Biden had set a deadline of Tuesday for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which contains reforms such as a ban on chokeholds, to become law.

It passed the House of Representatives in March but is faltering in the Senate where Republicans object to a provision ending qualified immunity, which shields officers from legal action by victims and families for alleged civil rights violations. The family urged quicker action.

Philonise said pointedly: “If you can make federal laws to protect the bird which is the bald eagle, you can make federal law to protect people of colour.”

Brandon Williams, Floyd’s nephew, added: “He let us know that he supports passing the bill, but he wants to make sure that it’s the right bill and not a rushed bill.”

The family’s lawyer, Ben Crump, said the group was about to meet Senators Cory Booker and Tim Scott, who are working on a bipartisan deal. “We all want just policing where George Floyd will get an opportunity to take a breath without having a knee on his neck,” he said. “It has been 57 years since we’ve had meaningful legislation.

George Floyd’s family meets with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
George Floyd’s family meets with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Some observers have suggested that Biden should use his bully pulpit to push Congress harder. The anniversary came as a warning that patience could wear thin.

The president, who made racial justice central to his election campaign and enjoyed strong support among African American voters, issued a statement following the meeting. “The Floyd family has shown extraordinary courage, especially his young daughter Gianna, who I met again today,” he said. “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.”

Biden added that he appreciates “the good-faith efforts from Democrats and Republicans” to pass a meaningful bill out of the Senate. “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.”

Floyd died on 25 May 2020 when the then Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes, despite the 46-year-old repeatedly saying he could not breathe.

The killing, captured on video by a bystander, triggered months of demonstrations at systemic racism and policing. Chauvin was convicted of murder and is awaiting sentencing next month.

Floyd was honoured across America on Tuesday. In Minneapolis, a foundation created in his memory organised an afternoon of music and food in a park near the downtown courtroom where Chauvin stood trial. Nine minutes of silence were observed. Later, mourners were to gather for a candlelight vigil.

A woman meditates on the anniversary of the police murder of George Floyd, at George Floyd Memorial Square in Minneapolis.
A woman meditates on the anniversary of the police murder of George Floyd, at George Floyd Memorial Square in Minneapolis. Photograph: Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama, the first Black US president, issued a statement that acknowledged hundreds more Americans have died in encounters with police but also expressed hope.

“Today, more people in more places are seeing the world more clearly than they did a year ago.” he said. “It’s a tribute to all those who decided that this time would be different – and that they, in their own ways, would help make it different.”

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader, noted how the “ stomach-churning video” of Floyd’s death rippled beyond the US.

“The name of George Floyd was chanted in Rome, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Mexico City,” he said. “As recently as this weekend, professional soccer players in the [English] Premier League knelt before the game in support of the global movement against racism touched off by George Floyd.

“This was not only a fight for justice for one man and his family, who I’ve had the privilege to meet with, but a fight against the discrimination that Black men and women suffer at the hands of state power, not just here in America but around the globe.”

Earlier, the Floyd family had visited the Capitol to push the police reform legislation in meetings with members of Congress including House speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Karen Bass, a Democrat and the lead House negotiator, renewed her commitment to compromise with Republicans.

“We will get this bill on President Biden’s desk,” she said. “What is important is that … it’s a substantive piece of legislation, and that is far more important than a specific date. We will work until we get the job done. It will be passed in a bipartisan manner.”

Legislation has been pursued in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to increase accountability or oversight of police; 24 states have enacted new laws.


David Smith in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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