It was a death that shook America. A year later, as the nation mourned the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police, his family brought a conversation about racial injustice to the White House.
Amid frustration over the lack of police reform, Joe Biden hosted Floyd’s brother, Philonise, their seven-year-old daughter, Gianna, and other family members for a private meeting on Tuesday.
The grim anniversary was an opportunity for the president, whose own family has been racked with grief, to demonstrate an empathy many found lacking in his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters: “I think a large part of the meeting will be him listening to them and listening to them on what they want the way forward to be.
“I really wanted it to be a private meeting because he has a personal relationship and I wanted to know how they are doing, give them an update on their efforts to convert a bill into law and make sure there is a long-standing responsibility.”
Floyd died on May 25, 2020 when then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, despite the 46-year-old African-American repeatedly saying he couldn’t breathe.
The murder, captured on video by a bystander, sparked months of protests over systemic racism and police surveillance. Chauvin was convicted of murder and is awaiting sentencing.
Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, issued a statement Tuesday in which he acknowledged that hundreds more Americans have died in encounters with the police, but also expressed hope.
“Today, more people in more places see the world more clearly than a year ago.” he said. “It is a tribute to all those who decided that this time it would be different, and that they, in their own way, would help make it different.”
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate, noted how the “stomach-churning video” of Floyd’s death spread beyond the United States.
“George Floyd’s name was chanted in Rome, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Mexico City,” he said. “As recently as this weekend, the professional footballers of the [English] The Premier League knelt before the match in support of the global movement against racism started by George Floyd.
“This was not just a fight for justice for a man and his family, with whom I had the privilege of meeting, but a fight against discrimination suffered by black men and women at the hands of state power, not only here in America, but all over the world. “
But introspection and reckoning in business, culture, and society have yet to be matched by legislative action. Biden campaigned on the promise of tackling four centuries of racial oppression, but has run into the routine of partisan politicking in Congress.
He had set a deadline Tuesday for George Floyd’s Police Justice Act, which contains reforms such as a ban on strangulation, to become law. It was approved by the House of Representatives in March, but is failing in the Senate, where Republicans object to a provision ending qualified immunity, which protects officers from legal action by victims and families for alleged rights violations. civilians.
Family members, including Philonise, Gianna and her mother, Roxie Washington, visited the Capitol on Tuesday morning. On one photo opportunity, Philonise Floyd said: “Today is the day that he enraged the world. We all said enough is enough … We need meaningful legislation … We need it on Biden’s desk. We have to fix this. “
He leaned over to Gianna and asked, “Your dad is going to do what?”
She replied, “Change the world.”
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the Democratic House, said: “People from all over the world flooded the streets for days and weeks, millions of people. Gianna said, ‘My dad will change the world.’ And in fact, that change is happening. “
Karen Bass, Democrat and House Chief Negotiator, added: “Twelve months ago, the world witnessed the horrific torture and murder of George Floyd. We commemorate that day today by reflecting on everything that has happened, not just in our nation but in the world, regarding an issue that African Americans have struggled against, and fought for change, for generations.
“Within 30 days of George Floyd’s murder, we passed the George Floyd Police Justice Act at the request of his daughter, who said she hoped her father would never be forgotten. And it absolutely won’t. “
Bass renewed his pledge to engage with the Republicans.
“We are going to put this bill on President Biden’s desk,” he said. “The important thing is that … it is a substantive piece of legislation, and that is much more important than a specific date. We will work until we get the job done. It will be approved in a bipartisan manner. “
Some observers have suggested that Biden should use his intimidation pulpit to further pressure Congress. The anniversary came as a warning that patience might run out.
In an interview on SiriusXM radio, attorney for the Ben Crump family said: “What we hope to do in all those meetings is keep saying, ‘Let’s not lose this moment.’ It has been 57 years since we had significant police reform and now is our time to finally pass federal legislation in force.
“The whole world is watching to see if America will act and not only speak well when it comes to George Floyd’s legacy and if he has meaningful police reform.”
Legislation has been applied in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to increase police accountability or oversight; 24 states have enacted new laws.
Floyd was honored across the United States on Tuesday. In Minneapolis, a foundation created in his memory hosted an evening of music and food in a park near the downtown courtroom, where Chauvin was tried. Nine minutes of silence were observed. Later, the mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil.