President Joe Biden signed a long-awaited executive action on police reform on Wednesday, the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder in police custody.
“It is a measure of what we can do together to heal the very soul of this nation,” Biden said, moments before signing the executive action.
“Over two years now, we have gotten to know one another and pray for one another,” he said. “I promise the Floyd family, among others, George’s name will not just be a hashtag.”
The executive orders, first reported by The New York Times, will establish a national registry of police officers who are fired for misconduct. They also call for state and local police to tighten restrictions on chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and will restrict the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement departments.
Biden’s signing of police reform will require state and local participation. While all federal law enforcement must participate in the officer misconduct database, local and state police will have to willingly disseminate information about officers who were involved in misconduct.
Since the death of a wide-ranging police reform bill in Congress last year, reformers have pressed Biden to deliver these executive actions, many of which he outlined during his presidential campaign. In particular, families of people killed by police were eager for Biden to act.
Benjamin Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney, commented on Biden’s actions.
“On behalf of George Floyd’s family and the families of other victims of police violence, we extend our gratitude to President Biden for using the power of his office to impose meaningful federal police reform through an executive order,” Crump and his legal team said in a statement. “While this action does not have the long-term impact that we had hoped for with the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, it does represent incremental progress, and we need to commit ourselves to making progress every day because the safety of our children is worth the fight.”
“We urge President Biden to hold the Attorney General accountable to implement these changes quickly,” the statement continued. “And, given that most police violence against people of color occurs at the hands of local law enforcement, we need to see similar changes embraced by America’s 18,000 local law enforcement agencies.”
After Floyd was murdered, widespread protests were often met with a near-military response from police. Biden pledged that summer to slow down or stop the Pentagon-to-police pipeline, saying law enforcement officers “don’t need” militarized equipment and condemning the reality of an “up-armored Humvee” driving through neighborhoods.
In August, HuffPost reported that the Pentagon was effectively rubber-stamping requests for equipment from local police departments, with little oversight.
The president’s order is also expected to reform the Justice Department’s use-of-force policy, which has not been updated since 2004. The policy’s updates were drawn from the 2020 National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, which was drafted by a coalition of 11 law enforcement groups representing federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
The updated DOJ policy, set to take effect on July 19, will require federal officers to uphold legal standards of law enforcement practice set forth through the Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor, which established that reasonableness should be applied to a citizen’s claim of law enforcement exhibiting excessive force while making an arrest or investigatory stop.
It will also update the policy to reflect the precedent in Tennessee v. Garner, which forbids the use of deadly force on people just because they are fleeing arrest, as well as the use of firearms on moving vehicles unless the person is a threat to an officer.
According to the new policy, officers may only use deadly force when necessary if “the officer has reasonable belief” that the person poses “imminent danger of death or serious injury” to the officer or another person.