WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden thinks “the bar is too high” for convicting violent U.S. police officers and will use his speech to Congress next week to push for reform, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
“He believes the bar for convicting officers is too high,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “It needs to be changed.”
Reform efforts are in focus following Tuesday’s conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the May 2020 death of George Floyd. Psaki said Biden backs a bill that would ban chokeholds and require that deadly force only be used as a last resort in arrests.
That bill has passed in the House of Representatives, in which Biden’s Democrats hold a clear majority but faces rough sledding in the closely divided Senate.
Psaki said Biden has discussed the legislation with lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus when they met on Tuesday.
He plans to use a joint session of Congress on April 28, “to elevate this issue and talk about the importance of putting police reform measures in place,” she said.
The event marks Biden’s first 100 days in office with his most prominent speech since delivering his Jan. 20 inaugural address.
It gives the administration an opportunity to cast light on an issue it describes as of central importance but which has taken a backseat to the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout.
Relief among activists after the verdict in Chauvin’s trial gave way to anger over the fatal police shooting of a Black teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, during a confrontation caught on body-camera footage that appeared to show her lunging at two people with a knife.
The White House called the girl’s death “tragic” and said Black and Latino children experience higher rates of police violence.
Psaki reiterated the White House’s call for the Senate to pass the Democrats’ reform legislation, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) launched a sweeping civil investigation into Minneapolis’ policing practices following the Chauvin conviction, the administration’s first major use of its power to intervene in local police jurisdictions where it normally has no direct oversight.
The DOJ is also still probing whether the officers involved in Floyd’s death violated his civil rights, Attorney General Merrick Garland said. Such cases are particularly hard to prosecute against officers.
Meanwhile, a divided Senate narrowly confirmed Vanita Gupta as the first woman of color to serve in the No. 3 job at the DOJ, which includes oversight of the department’s police civil rights efforts.
Gupta, who won confirmation as associate attorney general by a 51-49 vote, oversaw high-profile investigations into abuses by police departments in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, during former President Barack Obama’s administration.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Steve Holland, Sarah Lynch and Doina Chiacu; editing by Franklin Paul, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)