How Biden, cops and lawyers reached a deal on policing and race

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, was watching football on a Sunday afternoon when he received a call from Susan Rice, the White House’s top domestic policy adviser.

Negotiations over an executive order aimed at tackling racism and policing were in danger of collapsing after a draft leaked that law enforcement deemed too harsh on officers. Now Rice was looking to get things back on track.

“She said they wanted to do it again,” Pasco said of looking back on that day earlier this year. “And they wanted to deal with us in confidence.”

He accepted. The result was the executive order that President Joe Biden signed last week in a ceremony that improbably brought together law enforcement officials, civil rights activists and families of those killed by police.

“It’s a moment where we’ve come together for something that’s not perfect, but it’s fine,” Rice said. “And that moves the needle considerably.”

No one who thinks America’s police need to be overhauled — including the president himself — thinks the final order goes far enough. It does not directly affect local services, which have the most interaction with citizens, and does not necessarily represent a permanent change. The next administration could quickly undo it.

However, many civil rights advocates see it as an important step forward, and perhaps even a building block toward more extensive legislation that has so far been elusive.

“We must maintain the dialogue,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. “And I think that helps create the feeling that we can talk, and if we talk, we’ll find common ground.”

A NEW STRATEGY

Biden’s initial hope was that Congress would pass bipartisan legislation named to George Floydthe black man who was murdered by Minneapolis police during an arrest in 2020.

However, the first anniversary of Floyd’s death passed last year without a deal and negotiations ultimately fell apart. White House officials began to focus on a possible executive order.

Previous presidents have also tried to make improvements to America’s law enforcement system, but Biden has faced particular pressure to strike the right balance.

During his campaign, Biden met with Floyd’s family and pledged to make racial justice a central part of his administration.

He also had a long-standing relationship with the police and their unions. And he didn’t want to be at odds with law enforcement as crime was a growing concern for the country, not to mention a problem to come. this year’s midterm elections.

After preliminary meetings, a draft of the order took shape and was circulated to various federal agencies. Then a leaked copy was posted online by the Federalist, a conservative website, in January.

“Everyone went ballistic,” Pasco said. Not only did law enforcement groups dislike parts of the draft, but they felt the administration had not listened enough to their views.

Rice worked the phones to calm nerves, opening a new chapter in the negotiations.

In addition to Rice’s team, officials from the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office under Dana Remus worked out the details. Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., were also involved.

Senior administration officials described a kind of shuttle diplomacy, and they met separately with civil rights advocates and law enforcement groups while trying to keep everyone on the same page. Long days were fueled by Hershey’s kisses, M&Ms and anything else that could be scrounged from White House desks.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an independent political organization, said that in Washington, “people just pay lip service to you.” But in this case, “we had hours of discussions, very substantial discussions, about some of the issues in there.

CONCLUSION OF AN AGREEMENT

A sensitive part of the leaked draft has not changed. The final version still says the country should “recognize the legacy of systemic racism in our criminal justice system and work together to eliminate racial disparities that persist to this day.”

Ebonie Riley, senior vice president of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization led by the Reverend Al Sharpton, said it was important to leave that out.

“If we continue to hide conversations that we need to have out loud in the shadows, that becomes part of the problem,” she said.

To balance the tone, more words were added on “increasing violent crime rates” and how “strengthening the partnership between law enforcement and communities is imperative to fighting crime and ensuring safe sustainable public.

A sentence about how deadly force should only be used as a “last resort when there is no reasonable alternative” was deleted. However, the executive order requires federal law enforcement officers to prioritize de-escalation and then intervention if they see another officer using excessive force.

A significant portion of the order is devoted to information gathering, such as creating a database to track misconduct by federal agents and expanding use-of-force analysis tools. .

“When we talk about what a fair criminal justice system looks like, a big part of it is understanding what the data is,” said Danielle Conley, the assistant White House attorney.

As an executive order, the new policies are limited to federal agencies. But administration officials plan to attach conditions to federal funding to persuade local police departments to adopt similar rules.

“Just having these words on paper is not going to save lives,” said Udi Ofer, deputy national political director at the American Civil Liberties Union.

On May 15, Biden attended a annual memorial for officers killed in the line of duty. After Biden posed for photos with people at the memorial, Pasco stayed for a private chat.

There was not much time left until the second anniversary of Floyd’s death, May 25, and no one in the White House wanted the day to go by without a deal.

“We gave everything we had to give,” Pasco recalled telling Biden. “And your staff also made a lot of concessions. So as long as it stays that way, we’re fine. »

Pasco said Biden responded, “I’ll take a look at it, and if I see any issues, I’ll let you know.”

But there was none, and the deal was done.

CEREMONY

Officials began inviting key players to the signing ceremony a few days earlier, and some weren’t notified until the day before. A process that was nearly foiled by a leak reached the finish line without interruption.

In addition to Floyd’s family, the audience included relatives of other black people — Michael Brown, Elijah McClain, Amir Locke, Atatiana Jefferson and Breonna Taylor — who had been killed by law enforcement over the years.

Not everyone was appeased. The Movement for Black Lives issued a statement calling Biden’s executive order “a poor excuse for the public safety transformation he promised.” But Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, argued that the executive order represented progress.

“If we refuse to sit around the table or allow the political climate to overshadow public policy opportunities, we will all suffer,” he said.

In his speech, Biden said Congress still needs to pass legislation, but he described the executive order as “the most significant police reform in decades.”

“Let me say that there are those who seek to drive a wedge between law enforcement and the people they serve, those who peddle the fiction that public trust and public safety are oppose,” Biden said.

He added: “We know that’s not true.”

When Biden finished, Floyd’s 8-year-old daughter, Gianna, approached. “You’re getting so big,” Biden told him.

She sat down at the desk where the president had signed the order. Vice President Kamala Harris handed him the pen Biden had used.

“Do you know what she said to me when I saw her when she was little two years ago?” Biden said. “Seriously, she pulled me aside and said, ‘My daddy is going to change the world.'”

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