US courts have developed a legal doctrine that protects police from lawsuits for civil rights abuses, wrongful deaths.
The family of George Floyd met on the anniversary of his death with top legislators in the United States Congress and President Joe Biden to push for passage of police reform legislation stalled by policy disputes.
Floyd’s death triggered nationwide protests and violent clashes with police in big US cities, prompting Democrats in Congress to propose police reform legislation named in Floyd’s honour. The protests fuelled a broader racial reckoning in the US that continues to reverberate.
“Today is the day that he set the world in a rage and people in America said ‘We know what’s going on, and enough is enough’,” Floyd’s brother Philonese Floyd said on Tuesday.
“We need to be working together to make sure that people in America do not live in fear,” Philonese said in remarks with top Democratic lawmakers at the US Capitol.
The House of Representatives has twice passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing bill that would implement sweeping federal reforms but which Senate Republicans have opposed. Among the proposed reforms, the Democratic-backed House bill seeks to ban the use of chokeholds like the one that killed Floyd.
The family met privately with Biden on Tuesday in a visit at the White House that was described by family participants as a very personal meeting in which Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke from the heart and offered their support for reform legislation.
Biden told the family “that he doesn’t want to sign a bill that doesn’t have substance and meaning so he is going to be patient, to make surest is the right deal, not a rush bill”, Ben Crump, the family lawyer, said.
The family was scheduled to meet leading US senators to call for a bipartisan compromise on the police reform bill.
“This is a police issue. This is a civil rights issue. We have to look at this as a national issue that we have avoided dealing with for far too long,” Crump told reporters at the White House.
In a statement after the meeting, Biden called on Congress to act.
“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,” Biden said. “At our best, the American ideal wins out.”
Senator Cory Booker, who is leading Senate Democrats in negotiations with Republicans on police reform legislation, said on Tuesday the two sides are apart on key issues but he remains optimistic agreement can still be reached.
“I wish there was just one sticking point there,” Booker said on the CBS News television outlet.
“There are still some gulfs to bridge, but I’m encouraged,” Booker said.
Senator Tim Scott, the lead Republican negotiator on the bill, told reporters on Capitol Hill that a main point of contention between the parties remains the question of eliminating “qualified immunity”, a legal doctrine that shields police from wrongful death and abuse lawsuits.
Republicans and most police groups oppose rolling back the judge-granted immunity, while some progressive Democrats in the House have said they would only support a bill that abolishes the legal doctrine.
“We have a long way to go still, but it’s starting to take form,” Scott said, according to the Reuters news agency.
Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck, was convicted last month of murder and faces up to 40 years in prison. The three other officers at the scene have pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting Chauvin, and will go on trial next year.
The Minneapolis Police Department fired all four officers the day after Floyd was killed.
“If you can make federal laws to protect the bird which is the Bald Eagle, you can make federal laws to protect people of colour,” Philonese Floyd said after the meeting with Biden.