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President Joe Biden signed an executive order to take a step towards improving accountability for police officers on Wednesday, the second anniversary of George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis.

Floyd died on May 25, 2020, because of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis. 

"I’ve called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but Senate Republicans have stood in the way of progress," Biden said in a tweet. "That’s why this afternoon, I’m taking action and signing an Executive Order that delivers the most significant police reform in decades."

The order, filed without legislative action, directs federal agencies to revise use-of-force policies, bans chokeholds, restrict practices such as no-knock warrants, and require officers to intervene if they see excessive force being used.

The use-of-force changes, chokehold ban, and restrictions on no-knock warrants apply to more than 100,000 federal law enforcement officers, such as the FBI, ATF, DEA, and ICE.

In addition, the order does the following: 

  • Creation of a new nationwide standard for accrediting police departments
  • Establishing a national database to track police misconduct
  • Further restricting the transfer of military equipment to police departments
  • Requiring agencies to implement new tools to screen for inherent bias among officers and recruits. This also includes those who "promote unlawful violence or harbor white supremacist views."
  • Creation of new standards to promote and encourage officer wellness.

The order would also assess the impact of facial recognition software on civil liberties, look for ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in federal correctional facilities, and suggest better ways to collect data on police practices. The research on police could eventually lay the groundwork for more changes to come.

The changes don't apply to local law enforcement officers, and local police departments aren't compelled to take part in the national database tracking police misconduct, though they could be offered federal funding to encourage cooperation.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act currently stalled in Congress would impose more comprehensive changes at all levels of law enforcement if it were to ever pass.

The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives early last year, but languished as it reached the Senate, where there is a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans, and 60 votes are needed to pass it due to the filibuster rule.

Rev. Al Sharpton described Biden’s order as “an important step” to the Associated Press that showed the president “took the initiative” when Congress failed to act, but he said activists would “never give up” on pushing for legislation.

“George Floyd woke us up, and we should not go back to sleep,” Sharpton said in a statement.

After the four former officers — Chauvin, J Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane — were convicted for violating Floyd's human rights, Biden pushed Congress to pass legislation for police reform by the anniversary of his death. Bipartisan talks eventually broke down.

Floyd's killing, along with Breonna Taylor's, started an uproar of civil unrest across the country. 

National Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Floyd family and worked with state prosecutors in the trial of Derek Chauvin, provided the following statement on Biden's order Wednesday:

"On behalf of George Floyd's family and the families of other victims of police violence, we extend our gratitude to President Biden for using the power of his office to impose meaningful federal police reform through en executive order. While this action does not have the long-term impact that we had hoped for with the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, it does represent incremental progress, and we need to commit ourselves to making progress every day because the safety of our children is worth the fight.

"This order will help ensure that officers with a track record of violence are identified so they don't move from venue to venue. It will help to roll back the militarization of police. It restricts use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants by federal law enforcement and imposes use of force standards at the federal level. This is a start that should serve as model for law enforcement everywhere.

"We urge President Biden to hold the Attorney General accountable to implement these changes quickly. And, given that most police violence against people of color occurs at the hands of local law enforcement, we need to see similar changes embraced by America's 18,000 local law enforcement agencies. We thank President Biden for this meaningful step, and we urge him to use every lever he has to push for similar reforms to be adopted in every state and every municipality in our country."

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