President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order that he said would bring more accountability and effectiveness to policing and criminal justice, on the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis resident, by a police officer.
“It's a measure of what we can do together to heal the very soul of this nation,” Biden said. “To address profound fear and trauma, exhaustion – that particularly Black Americans have experienced for generations – and a channel of private pain and public outrage into a rare marker of progress for years to come.”
The executive order creates a national database that logs police misconduct; strives for timely, thorough and stronger investigations; mandates body cameras; bans chokeholds and carotid restraints; restricts use of no-knock entries by police; and sets up new standards, among other things.
Executive orders are directives that U.S. presidents use to manage operations of the federal government.
U.S. legislators last year failed to agree on a new law aimed at police reform, so this order applies only to federal agencies – something critics were quick to note and that Biden acknowledged Wednesday, when he reiterated his call for the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would affect state and local police departments.
"This is mostly not a federal issue that we're dealing with in this country,” Howard Henderson told VOA on Wednesday, via Zoom. He is the founder of the Houston-based Center for Justice Research and a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“Most of these issues are happening at the state and local level, primarily locally,” he added. “We have to begin to take what Biden signed ... today and move it down to the local level because we need most common human police interaction to be governed by the same sorts of regulations to curtail negative behavior.”
A website run by the decentralized Black Lives Matter movement hailed the action as “a major win for the organizations like BLMGNF, who have been working with the White House to help develop it since the end of 2020.” The initialism stands for Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.
“However,” the statement continued, “one of the greatest systemic factors affecting the livelihood of Black communities is the continued overpolicing, brutalization and incarceration of our people. Violence by police tears our families apart; leaves emotional, logistical and financial gaps in our communities; and steals the lives of so many of our loved ones before they get the chance to achieve their dreams.
“We need the next phase of the action plan to explicitly address how federal agencies will update their policies to hold officers and departments at the local, state and federal level accountable for the way they engage with Black people,” the statement said.
Damon Hewitt, the president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the order “a commendable first step to address a deeply unjust system. I’m optimistic that the Biden administration will continue this work to ensure that local and state police departments mirror the reform we’re seeing unfold on a federal level.”
The brutal May 25, 2020, killing of Floyd reverberated around the globe, cutting through concerns about an incipient pandemic and sending thousands of Americans and others into the streets to protest racist police practices.
“From Europe to the Middle East to Asia to Australia, people saw their own fight for justice and equality,” Biden said.
Henderson told VOA he hoped that better practices in the U.S. would also echo around the world.
“From the Netherlands to South Africa, we understand the challenges that we face around the world,” he said. “Police reform is not only just necessary in the United States, but police reform is an international issue. And I'm pretty sure that we're going to see an international response to what we've seen just today.”
Floyd was 46 when he was killed on a street corner in Minneapolis in front of a crowd of onlookers who begged Police Officer Derek Chauvin to lift his knee from Floyd’s neck. Police had responded to a call that Floyd attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for cigarettes.
Chauvin was later convicted on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter and sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.
On Wednesday at the White House, Biden invited Floyd’s daughter, Gianna, to sit at the desk after he signed the executive order. She silently took his seat, her feet barely touching the floor, and stared down quietly at the document before her. She was 6 years old when her father was killed.