President of the United States Joe Biden will on Tuesday meet the family of George Floyd on the first anniversary of his murder by police in Minneapolis, but will miss his deadline for police reform to address racial injustice.
The private meeting at the White House comes amid events in Minneapolis and beyond to mark one year since Mr Floyd was killed when police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.
Mr Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe”, became a rallying cry for an international racial justice movement and demands for radical changes to policing. But to the frustration of activists, efforts have hit a wall in Washington.
Mr Biden dropped a campaign promise to create a national police oversight commission in his first hundred days in office, reportedly after being advised by civil rights organisations and police unions that it might cause unnecessary delays.
Instead the president told a joint session of Congress last month he wanted the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed by May 25th. The legislation would invest in police training, ban the use of chokeholds and establish a national database of police misconduct.
The Bill has been passed by the House of Representatives but is stalled in the Senate over issues including qualified immunity, which shields law enforcement officers from being sued by victims and their families for civil rights violations. Republicans have objected to it being scrapped.
Both parties acknowledged on Monday that they will not meet Mr Biden’s self-imposed deadline but insisted they can still find common ground.
Democratic senator Cory Booker, Republican counterpart Tim Scott and Democratic congresswoman Karen Bass said in a joint statement: "This anniversary serves as a painful reminder of why we must make meaningful change. While we are still working through our differences on key issues, we continue to make progress toward a compromise and remain optimistic about the prospects of achieving that goal."
The White House played down the disappointment at failing to meet expectations. Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser, told MSNBC: "The president called for it by the anniversary but meaningful talks are still going on and it's better to have a meaningful Bill than worry about a deadline."
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters last week: "All of the negotiators are continuing to press forward on working to find common ground to get this done. The president wants to sign it into law.
“We are not going to slow our efforts to get this done, but we can also be transparent about the fact that it’s going to take a little bit more time. Sometimes that happens, that’s okay.”
Mr Biden has been criticised for his support of a 1994 crime bill that led to the incarceration of thousands of black men and women for drugs offences. But he performed strongly with African-American voters in last year’s election and promised to embed racial equity in his legislative agenda.
The president took an unusually keen interest in the trial of Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, telling reporters as the jury considered its decision: “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is – I think it’s overwhelming in my view.”
Chauvin was found guilty of murder and is awaiting sentencing.
The George Floyd Memorial Foundation, a non-profit launched by Mr Floyd's siblings in September to fight racial inequality, is hosting a series of events in Minneapolis this week.
Family members took to the streets on Sunday and marched with hundreds of people. Many carried signs with pictures of Mr Floyd and other black people killed by police.
His sister, Bridgett Floyd, told the crowd: "It has been a long year. It has been a painful year. It has been very frustrating for me and my family for our lives to change in the blink of an eye – I still don't know why."
Other speakers at the event included a Floyd family lawyer, Ben Crump, and the civil rights activist the Rev Al Sharpton, who said: "We want something coming out of Washington. We want something that will change federal law. There's been an adjournment on justice for too long. It's time for them to vote and make this the law.
“George Floyd should not go down in history as someone with a knee on his neck, but as someone who broke the chain of police brutality and illegality.”
Other events in Minneapolis to mark the anniversary include a virtual “day of action” and two panels with family members and other activists on Monday, followed by a community festival and candlelight vigil on Tuesday.
In New York on Sunday, Mr Floyd's brother, Terrence, attended a gathering in Brooklyn. He told supporters not to forget his brother or victims of racist violence.
"If you keep my brother's name ringing, you're going to keep everybody else's name ringing," he said. "Breonna Taylor, Sean Bell, Ahmaud Arbery, you could go through the whole list. There's a lot of them." – Guardian