When did Memorial Day, a holiday observed nationally in the United States since May 30, 1868, become George Floyd Memorial Weekend?
Floyd, for those with amnesia, is the black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. His death ignited nationwide protests and riots and calls by activists in many cities to defund their police departments. His death also led to prison terms for the officers involved in his arrest and to numerous changes in police policies, not just in Minneapolis but in almost every state and major city.
President Biden and the Democrats continue to argue for federal oversight of local law enforcement by pursuing passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. By mid-2021, however, many of its provisions had been addressed by more than 3,000 law enforcement–related bills introduced in state legislatures. Many that became law placed limits on police discretion in using physical or deadly force, including chokeholds and other neck restraints, and on obtaining and serving no-knock or quick-knock warrants.
Despite this, on May 25, 2022, Biden issued an executive order, titled “Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices To Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety.” It could have been signed on his first day in office, but he waited to sign it in conjunction with the second anniversary of Floyd’s death, in the presence of Floyd’s family and family members of others who died during encounters with the police. The order has little relevance to state and local police since presidents have little direct authority over the nation’s 18,000 nonfederal law enforcement agencies that employ about 700,000 police officers. The order mostly affected about 100,000 federal officers—one-eighth of the police officers in the United States. Recognizing its limited scope, Biden again called for Congress to pass the Floyd Act.
This year, again in recognition of Floyd’s death, Biden recalled his conversation with Floyd’s daughter the day before her father’s funeral. “Gianna told me, ‘Daddy changed the world.’ Three years after her father’s murder, my answer to Gianna remains the same: ‘he has.’” Biden further said, “I urge Congress to enact meaningful police reform and send it to my desk. I will sign it. I will continue to do everything in my power to fight for police accountability in Congress, and I remain willing to work with Republicans and Democrats alike on genuine solutions.”
It’s unclear to whom this clarion call was directed. Each of the three black senators who had been the key negotiators to craft a bipartisan bill has gone on to other pursuits. Democrat Kamala Harris has become vice president. Senator Cory Booker (D–NJ), who had said little about the Act since 2021, stated this year that he is “sobered” about the possibility of major police reform but still thinks that “something” can be done.
Harris’s and Booker’s primary Republican negotiating partner, Senator Tim Scott, recently announced a presidential run. He is unlikely to negotiate with Booker on legislation unpopular with his GOP colleagues. And Karen Bass, the House’s primary sponsor of the Floyd Act, is now mayor of Los Angeles, where she is advocating reforms in her local police department.
Why then, does Biden continue to push the Floyd Act? Does he believe it is as important to all black voters as it is to activists—or could the renewed push surrounding another Floyd death anniversary reflect the findings of a new Ipsos–Washington Post survey that found that, while 66 percent of black American respondents approve of the job Biden has done, only 34 percent believe that his policies have helped their demographic?
Biden made racial justice a major component of his 2020 campaign; he signed an executive order to advance racial equity on his first day in office. And in October 2022, he pardoned those convicted of pot possession. But while, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, blacks are almost four times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession than whites, the pardon pertains only to federal—not state or local—convictions. And though Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this year referred to “the talk” that black families have with their children to avoid trouble with police, it is unclear to what extent these gestures resonate with black voters. (The poll found that 9 percent of blacks would consider voting for former President Trump, a higher percentage than would consider voting for any of the other current Republicans, including Tim Scott.)
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was adopted to honor the memories of fallen Americans serving in the military. For the Biden administration, it’s also come to coincide with an annual gesture in support of anti-police advocates.
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