WASHINGTON — The Congressional Black Caucus met with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris Thursday evening to urge the administration to use its executive power for law enforcement reform, following criminal charges for police officers in the killing of a Black man in Memphis, Tennessee.
“My hope is this dark memory spurs some action that we’ve all been fighting for,” Biden said.
Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was beaten by five Memphis police officers during a traffic stop on Jan. 7 and died three days later. The five police officers have been fired and indicted in connection with his death.
After the city released video footage of the beating last week, protests against police brutality have continued, along with calls from Democratic lawmakers to reform policing. Some would like to change qualified immunity, legal precedents that protect government officials, such as law enforcement officials, from many lawsuits stemming from accusations of violations of constitutional rights.
Biden said he hopes there can be progress on police reform.
“We gotta stay at it as long as it takes,” Biden said.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus who visited the White House included Democratic Reps. Steven Horsford of Nevada, James Clyburn of South Carolina, Joe Neguse of Colorado and Sheila Lee Jackson of Texas and Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Raphael Warnock of Georgia.
“The death of Tyre Nichols is yet another example of why we do need action,” Horsford said to Biden in the Oval Office. “We need your help to make sure we can get the legislative actions that are necessary to save lives and to make public safety the priority that it needs to be for all communities.”
Nichols’ parents are also expected to be at Biden’s State of the Union address next week, after accepting an invitation from Horsford, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.
Harris traveled to Memphis this week to attend Nichols’ funeral, where she made a call for legislation to prevent racial profiling and excessive force.
Any legislation relating to police reform would likely originate in the Senate, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has not said much about such legislation since Nichols’ death, and voted against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which the House passed in 2020.
George Floyd was a Black man murdered by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, who was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. It sparked national outrage and protests against police brutality and racism.
Talks between Booker and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina about a policing accountability bill, such as the George Floyd bill, fell apart in the Senate.
Scott on Thursday wrote on Twitter that the House’s George Floyd bill is a nonstarter.
“I’ve been working toward common ground solutions that actually have a shot at passing,” Scott wrote on Twitter. “Solutions to increase funding and training to make sure only the best wear the badge.”
The House last year did pass, on a bipartisan basis, four bills that provided grants to small law enforcement agencies, funding for mental health professionals to respond to calls in which people are in distress and funding for crime-solving technology.
Those bills were the Invest to Protect Act, the Break the Cycle of Violence Act, the Mental Health Justice Act and the VICTIM Act.
Biden also signed into law late last year the Law Enforcement De-Escalation Training Act of 2022, which directs the Justice Department to develop training situations for de-escalation tactics and responding safely to a mental health crisis. A $124 million grant was provided for law enforcement agencies to develop those de-escalation practices.
Last year, at least 1,192 people were killed by law enforcement officers in the U.S., and 26% were Black people despite making up more than 13% of the U.S. population, according to the nonprofit Mapping Police Violence.
Reform practices were in place in Memphis, from body cameras to a civilian police oversight board.