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Biden faces pressure on policing


Call for reform as sorrow and anger mark funeral of victim Tyre Nichols

When U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris was called to the pulpit at the funeral for Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old African American whose fatal beating by police shocked the nation and triggered urgent calls for reform, she said the White House would settle for nothing less than ambitious federal legislation to crack down on police brutality.

“We should not delay, and we will not be denied,” Harris said to applause in Memphis. “It is nonnegotiable.”

However, in Washington progress appears difficult to achieve and even unlikely. Bipartisan efforts to reach an agreement on policing legislation stalled more than a year ago, and President Joe Biden ended up instead signing an executive order named after George Floyd, whose murder at the hands of Minneapolis police set off nationwide protests nearly three years ago.

Now, with a new killing in the headlines, Biden and Harris were to meet members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday to explore whether it is possible to get legislation back on track.

The White House faces fresh pressure to advance the issue, and even some political allies of Biden are frustrated with what they view as excess caution on his part.

“I think the president is missing the opportunity to be a historic president when it comes to the social issues that continue to plague our country,” said Representative Jamaal Bowman. “That’s what we need.”

Bowman described Biden as “a champion of the status quo in many ways”, and said the president needs to be “a champion of a new vision for America”.

The solution, Bowman said, is not “thoughts and prayers, come to the State of the Union after your kid gets killed”, a reference to Nichols’ mother and stepfather being invited to attend next week’s speech.

Civil rights leaders, family and friends gathered in the Memphis church on Wednesday to bid farewell to Nichols.

Far-reaching resonance

Anger is still simmering over Nichols’ death on Jan 10, three days after he was beaten and kicked in a traffic stop by five black police officers, rekindling a nationwide debate about brutality in law enforcement.

Condemning the officers over the deadly “act of violence”, Harris urged Congress to pass a stalled reform bill named after George Floyd, whose murder by police in 2020 ignited waves of unrest across the country and beyond.

Speaking through tears, Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells joined Harris in calling on lawmakers to act. At her side was the veteran civil rights leader Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy.

“We need to take some action,” Wells said. “Because if we don’t, the next child that dies, that blood is going to be on their hands.”

Mourners were shown pictures shot by the young man, a keen photographer, as well as clips of him skateboarding, another passion.

In a sign of the far-reaching resonance of Nichols’ death, Harris was joined at the funeral by the film director Spike Lee and by relatives of other black victims of police violence, including George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd.

Nichols was stopped by members of a special police unit called Scorpion over what police said was a traffic violation.

He was beaten viciously, as recorded in body camera and security camera footage that triggered national outrage when it was made public last week.

Five officers involved have been fired and face murder charges. Two others and three firefighters have been suspended as an investigation continues.

The New York Times said that official figures in Memphis showed that while black residents make up two-thirds of the city’s population, since 2016 they had accounted for 86 percent of encounters in which police used force.

As Nichols’ funeral took place, a new uproar was building over a bystander video from Los Angeles that appears to show the moments before police shot dead a double amputee, an African American, as he fled on his stumps.

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