Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and advocates who want to overhaul the nation’s policing laws — including members of George Floyd’s family — held a series of meetings Thursday searching for legislation that can pass both chambers of Congress, the day after President Joe Biden highlighted the demand for policing reform in his prime-time address.
“We believe that everybody is committed,” Floyd family attorney Ben Crump said after a meeting at the White House that he described as “emotional.”
“We’re optimistic that — as President Biden has encouraged us — to try to have this George Floyd Act pass before May 25, the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd,” he told reporters.
“We’re committed to getting meaningful reform done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier in the day after a meeting with some family members. “Hopefully in a bipartisan way if we can,” he added.
The families of several victims of police violence met with Republicans, too, on Thursday, including South Carolina Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott. Scott — who gave the Republican rebuttal to Biden’s speech — has been a leading negotiator for GOP lawmakers. After the meeting, the attorneys for the families said that they made it clear to the senators that they want to see what they described as “meaningful change” that comes from the passage of these bills.
“Both Senator Scott and Senator Graham committed that they were going to do everything in their power to work with their colleagues to help fashion meaningful legislation to present to President Biden,” Crump told reporters later at the White House, where Floyd’s family, as well as that of Eric Garner and Botham Jean and their representatives met with senior adviser Cedric Richmond, Domestic Policy Adviser Susan Rice and White House Counsel Dana Remus.
On Capitol Hill earlier, Crump said what the families wanted to make clear was that their lost family members represent the urgent need for change.
“It means more to these families than anybody else because that legislation will literally have the bloodstain of their loved ones,” Crump said. “And that was the tone and the tenor of the meeting, they listened to us and talked about how they wanted to make sure it was meaningful.”
“They got to hear directly from the families whose blood will be owed the legislation that is being proposed. They listen intensely. They got very emotional at times,” he said.
When pressed if that includes the elimination of qualified immunity protection, civil rights attorney Bakari Sellers said that they want to make sure to hold individual officers accountable.
“They must hold individual police officers accountable,” Sellers said. “That includes both on the criminal and civil side.”
When asked if that meant those specific changes, Sellers responded, “Yes.”
The group also met with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who, with Rep. Karen Bass of California, represents Democrats in their congressional negotiations on policing reform. Scott, Graham, Booker and Bass are expected to meet later Thursday afternoon with other key lawmakers, including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican from Minnesota.
Graham said after meeting with the families of the victims of police violence that he believes it is possible to find a “sweet spot” in the bill that satisfies all the concerns of the parties involved. Graham said that the goal is to create a policy that changes behavior.
Graham suggested it might not be necessary to lift immunity protections on individual officers to reach the goals everyone wants.
“Legal liability drives change. If you’re making a car, and you can get sued if you make a bad car, you’ll think better about making cars,” Graham said. “So having the department, not the officer, being the defendant is probably a good change. It takes a lot of pressure off cops. They can still be prosecuted if they did something criminally, but it can’t be strict liability.”
Graham argued putting the departments in civil legal jeopardy could actually lead to the change people are looking for.
“You’re trying to get them to up their training, trying to get them to hire better people and police the police,” Graham said. “So, that putting them in the crosshairs legally, we’ll do that. But you also got to realize that policing is, is a difficult job and, and, yeah, give, give the departments, some defenses.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters earlier Thursday that she will bring the bill that comes out of the bipartisan talks on police reform “when we are ready,” giving lawmakers more room than Biden did Wednesday night when he urged Congress to pass legislation by the anniversary of Floyd’s death on May 25.
“We will bring it to the floor when we are ready. And we’ll be ready when we have a good, strong bipartisan bill. And that is up to the Senate, and then we’ll have it in the House because it would be a different bill,” Pelosi outlined.
Asked by CNN if she is worried about the bipartisan version of the bill passing in the House after many progressives have pushed back on compromises coming out of negotiations, Pelosi said she is “very confident” the bipartisan bill will pass the House.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Thursday.