How Biden, Cops and Lawyers Forged a Deal on Police and Race

WASHINGTON — 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 top White House domestic policy adviser.

Negotiations for an anti-racism and anti-police executive order threatened to collapse after leaking a draft law enforcement groups said was too hard on officials. Now Rice was trying to get things going again.

“She said they wanted to start over,” Pasco said as he reflected on that day earlier this year. “And they wanted to be absolutely confidential with us.”

He agreed. The result was the Executive order signed by President Joe Biden last week during a ceremony that improbably brought together law enforcement leaders, civil rights activists and families of people killed by police.


“This is a moment where we came together for something that isn’t perfect, but very good,” said Rice. “And it moves the needle significantly.”

No one who believes America’s police force needs an overhaul — including the President himself — believes the final order goes far enough. It doesn’t directly affect the local authorities, who have most interactions with citizens, nor does it necessarily represent a lasting change. The next government could quickly reverse it.

However, many civil rights activists see it as an important step forward and perhaps even a building block towards broader legislation that has heretofore been elusive.

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


Biden’s initial hope was that Congress would pass the aforementioned bipartisan bill George Floydthe black man murdered in an arrest by Minneapolis police in 2020.


However, the first anniversary of Floyd’s death passed without an agreement last year, and negotiations eventually collapsed. White House officials began focusing on a possible executive order.

Past presidents have also attempted to improve America’s law enforcement system, but Biden has been under particular pressure to find the right balance.

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

He also had longstanding relationships with the police and their unions. And he didn’t want to get in trouble with law enforcement when crime was a growing problem for the country, let alone a problem ahead of its time this year’s midterm elections.

After preliminary discussions, a draft regulation took shape and was distributed to various federal agencies. Then, in January, a leaked copy was posted online by the conservative website Federalist.


“Everyone blew up,” Pasco said. Not only did law enforcement groups dislike various parts of the draft, they felt the administration had not heard their perspective adequately.

Rice answered the phones to calm nerves and opened a new chapter in the negotiations.

In addition to Rice’s team, Justice Department officials and the White House Office under Dana Remus were working through the details. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., 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 activists and law enforcement groups while trying to keep everyone on the same page. Long days were fueled by Hershey’s Kisses, M&Ms, and whatever else could be looted from White House desks.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an independent political organization, said that “lip service is paid” in Washington. problems in it.”



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

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

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

To balance the tone, more words were added about “rising rates of violent crime” and how “strengthening the partnership between law enforcement agencies and communities is essential to fighting crime and achieving lasting public safety.”

A sentence about lethal 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 intervene when they see another officer using excessive force.


A significant portion of the contract is devoted to gathering information, such as creating a database to track federal agent misconduct and expanding tools to analyze the use of force.

“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 guidelines are limited to federal agencies. However, administration officials plan to put conditions on federal funding to persuade local police departments to enact similar rules.

“Just having those words on paper isn’t going to save lives,” said Udi Ofer, deputy national political director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

On May 15, Biden attended one annual commemoration for officers killed on duty. After Biden posed for photos with people at the memorial, Pasco stayed nearby 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 pass without an agreement.

“We gave everything we had to give,” Pasco recalled when telling Biden. “And your staff have also made many concessions. So as long as it stays that way, we’re fine with it.”

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

But there wasn’t, and the deal was done.


A few days earlier, officials began inviting key players to the signing ceremony, and some were only notified the day before. A process nearly unraveled 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 all were mollified. The Black Lives Movement issued a statement calling Biden’s executive order “a poor excuse for the public safety transformation he promised.” However, Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, argued that the order represented progress.

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

In his speech, Biden said Congress has yet to pass legislation, but described the executive order as “the most significant policing reform in decades.”

“Let me say that there are those who try to drive a wedge between law enforcement and the people they serve, those who peddle the fiction that public trust and public safety are at odds with one another.” , said Biden.

He added, “We know that’s not true.”

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


She sat down at the desk where the President had signed the order. Vice President Kamala Harris presented her with the pen that Biden had used.

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

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. How Biden, Cops and Lawyers Forged a Deal on Police and Race

Sarah Y. Kim

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