The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)

After Tyre Nichols funeral, Biden faces pressure on federal legislatio­n on policing

- By Chris Megerian and Farnoush Amiri

WASHINGTON — When Vice President Kamala Harris was called to the pulpit at the funeral for Tyre Nichols, she said the White House would settle for nothing less than ambitious federal legislatio­n to crack down on police brutality.

“We should not delay. And we will not be denied,” Harris said to applause in Memphis, Tennessee. “It is non-negotiable.”

Back in Washington, however, progress appears difficult, if not unlikely. Bipartisan efforts to reach an agreement on policing legislatio­n stalled more than a year ago, and President Joe Biden ended up instead signing an executive order named for George Floyd, whose murder at the hands of Minneapoli­s police set off nationwide protests nearly three years ago.

Now, with a new killing in the headlines, Biden and Harris will meet with members of the Congressio­nal Black Caucus on Thursday to explore whether it's possible to get legislatio­n back on track.

“I am working to make sure that we have a clear plan,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who chairs the caucus.

The White House is facing fresh pressure to advance the issue, and even some political allies are frustrated with what they view as excess caution from Biden.

“I think the president is missing the opportunit­y to be a historic president when it comes to the social issues that continue to plague our country,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y. “That's what we need.”

Bowman described Biden as “a champion of the status quo in many ways,” and he said Biden needs to be “a champion of a new vision for America.”

The solution, Bowman said, is not “thoughts and prayers, come to the State of the Union after your kid gets killed,” a reference to Nichols' mother and stepfather being invited to attend next week's speech.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday that “we understand there's a lot more work to do.” She blamed Republican­s for blocking progress in Congress.

“The way that we're going to deal with this issue is to have federal legislatio­n,” Jean-Pierre said. “That's how we're going to move forward.”

Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was in touch with the White House last Friday, when video of Nichols' beating became public, about whether the situation could be a catalyst to “get things moving again.”

His organizati­on, the nation's largest police union, had participat­ed in previous attempts to reach a bipartisan deal, and Pasco said that “we welcome any constructi­ve effort to help us do our jobs better.” The union's president, Patrick Yoes, has already condemned Nichols' killing and said that “our entire country needs to see justice done — swiftly and surely.”

However, Pasco said, “we're kind of in a wait-and-see mode right now,” with Republican­s recently regaining control of the House, making legislativ­e progress much harder.

“You've got to look at the political realities here,” he said.

The issue involves critical political questions for the White House. Biden has carefully balanced his approach, embracing calls for overhaulin­g how police do their jobs while also emphasizin­g his longtime support for law enforcemen­t and rejecting proposals to cut funding. He was elected with strong support from Black voters, and he's preparing a reelection campaign that could launch in the near future.

As a former prosecutor and the first person of color to serve as vice president, Harris has faced particular scrutiny for her approach to police issues. While attending the funeral on Wednesday,

she condemned Nichols' death, saying that “this violent act was not in pursuit of public safety.”

“When we talk about public safety, let us understand what it means in its truest form,” Harris said in her short speech. “Tyre Nichols should have been safe.”

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said he was encouraged that Harris attended the funeral.

“This is what people expect, that you'll be there for them at a time of need,” he said.

Now, Morial said, “we need a substantiv­e response, not a political response where they say, ‘Let's just pass something.'”

Last year's executive order was the product of negotiatio­ns among civil rights leaders and law enforcemen­t organizati­ons, and it mostly focuses on federal agencies by requiring them to review and revise policies on the use of force.

The administra­tion is also encouragin­g local department­s to participat­e in a database to track police misconduct.

But deeper modificati­ons, such as making it easier to sue officers for misconduct allegation­s, have remained elusive.

“We haven't gotten even a fraction of the changes that are necessary,” said Rashad Robinson, president of the activist group Color of Change.

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