More than four months into President Joe Biden’s term and amid highly-publicized police killings, Black voices are critical of the administration’s slow-moving undertaking of tackling police reform after the major role Black Americans played in securing the 46th president’s victory.
“African-Americans overwhelmingly delivered this election,” Atlanta civil rights attorney Gerald Griggs told the Atlanta Black Star. “It’s time for the administration to deliver for us and we need to be very clear the two primary things that are pressing in the African American community are voting rights and addressing police brutality. We have been patient over the first 100 days.”
Black women in particular were Democrats’ most loyal bloc in the 2020 presidential election, although Black Americans overall helped secure his victory. In Georgia, a state former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has received for flipping blue, 50 percent of Democratic voters were Black, although just 33 percent of the population is Black.
During his victory speech, Biden thanked his Black voters, saying “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”
Since the start of the year, police-involved deaths of Andre Hill, Andrew Brown, Anthony Thompson Jr., Daunte Wright, Ma’Khia Bryant have continuously reignited calls for change in policing.
In a prepared speech delivered last June after George Floyd died, Biden addressed the issue of police brutality head-on.
“I can’t breathe. … It’s time to listen to these words. Understand them. And respond to them — with real action.”
Biden went on to outline his plans to get an early start on tackling police reform.
“Looking ahead, in the first 100 days of my presidency, I have committed to creating a national police oversight commission,” he said. In April, the White House announced plans for the commission were being put on hold and that the top priority was to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law.
That same month, during his first address to a joint session of Congress, Biden urged lawmakers to get the legislation passed by the anniversary of Floyd’s death.
“We have to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, herd out systemic racism in our criminal justice system and enact police reform in George Floyd’s name,” Biden said. “Let’s get it done next month on the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.”
Under the legislation, chokeholds would be banned on the federal level, along with no-knock warrants in most cases, and law enforcement agencies would be required to collect data on investigatory activities to combat racial profiling. The legislation has passed in the House but has not been voted on in the Senate.
According to Griggs, while ensuring the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act gets passed is the aim, Biden could take action police reform now, pending the passage of the legislation.
Griggs said Biden “could easily draft an executive order empowering the Obama 21st century police initiative.” In 2014, former President Barack Obama signed the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which convened a panel of experts to rethink policing in America and made dozens of recommendations for departments around the country to implement. Griggs says implementing the recommendations through an executive order is akin to snagging “low hanging fruit.” (The recommendations by the task force, which were released in 2015, have been implemented by a handful of police departments around the nation, but the panel had no power to compel agencies to adopt its suggestions.)
“It deals with training, it deals with police accountability, it deals with new technology, it deals with rebuilding the public trust,” he said.
In May, Biden signed a hate crimes bill aimed at protecting Asian Americans amid a rise in anti-Asian attacks. Six of the eight victims killed in the deadly Atlanta spas shooting spree March were of Asian descent. “Now we stand with our Asian brothers and sisters especially here in Atlanta because it happened in Atlanta. We stood, we protested, we marched, a bill was passed. We feel like the same energy should be kept for the African-Americans marching and protesting for 400 years,” Griggs said.
Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter Gianna and other relatives met with Biden at the White House last month, a year after Floyd’s death. While Griggs views the meeting as appropriate, he added, “The administration needs to understand that there are thousands of families out here many of which have been waiting longer and have gone through the same amount of pain. So, we respect the invitation for the Floyd family we are hopeful that the promises made will be kept.”