Today, on the one year anniversary of his death, George Floyd’s family will visit the White House to meet with President Joe Biden and congressional lawmakers. They reportedly met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi earlier this morning and will now go on to speak with the president.
Biden has met with the mourning family before in the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, and he even sent a personalized video to play during Floyd’s memorial ceremony. He phoned Floyd’s brother after a guilty verdict was given in the Derek Chauvin murder trial, and has clearly made an effort to remain present and active in the lives of those who lost their sibling and son. This latest meeting in Washington DC might feel to some like a balm, even like closure. But I have my reservations.
George Floyd’s parents deserve justice, not sympathy, but there’s no justice for the dead without change. And I’d say Biden having the Floyd family in the most powerful place in America all while the Senate stalls a police reform bill feels like a slap in the face to every Black American who believed in his promises. His words and actions are hollow without definitive anti-racist action. What can we expect, outside of sympathy and tears? Likely nothing.
Despite running alongside Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, Biden has a long-term voting record that has actively deprioritized black people and their interests. While many seem to forget because he’s far better than his predecessor, Biden’s political influence is the reason Floyd is dead.
The harm policies supported and championed by Biden have caused are now ingrained in the legal system, and no amount of white-washing can remove the bloodstains. Those policies led to increased policing, racially divided sentencing guidelines (prior to the Fair Sentencing Act), and amplified implicit bias in policing, and the facts prove it.
The 1994 Crime Bill, for example, is the root of the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. The school-to-prison pipeline is a systemic pattern wherein young Black boys, many of whom live in abject poverty or abusive situations, are funneled from public schools into the juvenile or adult detention systems. Rather than being offered holistic care, like therapy or medication, these youth are criminalized and isolated, sometimes for situations they have no control over. Compounded with the fact that Black students are subjected to school discipline at a much higher rate than their white counterparts and are over twice as likely to grow up under the poverty line, Black children are already entering their education with a significant disadvantage.
As a Senator, Biden advocated for increased policing and prisons during the 1980’s, and pushed other legislators to support the War on Drugs. Biden himself said that President George H W Bush’s anti-crime initiative “doesn’t include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, not enough prosecutors to convict them, not enough judges to sentence them, and not enough prison cells to put them away for a long time”. Despite Black and white individuals using drugs at approximately the same rates, Black Americans are five times more likely to be pulled over by police and comprise 1 in 4 drug arrests.
This is Biden’s legacy: police and prisons, tearing families of color apart, and 80 per cent of the federal prison population being people of color. And today, we’re supposed to commend him for inviting the Floyd family to the White House a year after George’s death.
Nothing he can say to George Floyd’s family can compensate for the fact that Biden has done near nothing to stop police violence against Black people, or change the fact that his legislative record is inherently anti-Black. National attention won’t bring George Floyd back, but comprehensive policy change can help prevent the next act of violence the police may commit against Black men or children. Based on Biden’s history, can we expect that of him? I’d argue not.
Biden has repeatedly expressed that he’s opposed to defunding the police, In fact, his criminal justice plan included the hiring of more officers, despite calls from liberals and leftists demanding otherwise. He demanded police reform by the anniversary of Floyd’s death, but yet, the bill is stalled. Instead of the political, we get the performative. The simple fact is that in the past 12 months, we have seen no real, substantial change.
What the Biden administration fails to understand is that we, as Black people, don’t need kind words and comfort. We need action, so that Blackness doesn’t feel like a death sentence in the year of 2021.