President Joe Biden signed an executive order addressing policing on Wednesday, the two-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The order comes after Congress failed to pass more substantial police reform legislation and primarily impacts federal law enforcement, including placing limits on the use of lethal force and establishing a registry of officers fired for misconduct. It seeks to motivate state and local police agencies to adopt similar reforms through monetary incentives.
Marc Morial, president and CEO of the civil rights organization the National Urban League, said the order is a step in the right direction but that police reform legislation is still needed.
“I’m disappointed at the failure of Congress, repeatedly — whether it’s on gun safety legislation or police reform, criminal justice reform or voting rights — to do what the American people want,” he said in an interview with Marketplace’s David Brancaccio.
“Having said that, this executive order has strong impact on the 100,000 Federal law enforcement officers for whom it will directly apply, but also sets forth a model and uses carrots and sticks and incentives to encourage local and state law enforcement agencies to make the same kind of reforms. So the executive order is important. It does much. But it is limited in its scope; we need a federal law.”
The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
David Brancaccio: You wanted more from this — you’re not disappointed?
Marc Morial: Let me say this, I’m disappointed at congressional inaction. I’m disappointed at the failure of Congress, repeatedly — whether it’s on gun safety legislation or police reform, criminal justice reform or voting rights — to do what the American people want. The disappointment is with, particularly, the Senate and its repeated use of the filibuster to stop the kind of progress we need. Having said that, this executive order has strong impact on the 100,000 Federal law enforcement officers for whom it will directly apply, but also sets forth a model and uses carrots and sticks and incentives to encourage local and state law enforcement agencies to make the same kind of reforms. So the executive order is important. It does much. But it is limited in its scope; we need a federal law.
Brancaccio: People need to understand this: This is an executive order very focused on federal law enforcement and federal agencies. Do states, local and cities — can they effectively ignore this?
Morial: They can. But what they can also do is look at this as a model. A city council; a mayor, by executive order; police, by police directive can limit the use of no-knock warrants; can limit or ban unnecessary devices such as chokeholds. So there is a great opportunity. And here at the National Urban League, we have put forth a plan called the 21 Pillars Plan, and much of what that plan calls for did get included in the executive order. But it also speaks directly to state and local government; to mayors and police chiefs; to county executives; to sheriffs who can, on their own motion, do substantial things when it comes to reforming and ensuring that police are both accountable and effective.
Brancaccio: Talk about how you view restorative measures contributing to the public safety.
Morial: I think there’s a growing recognition around the country that there are people in communities who have a set of challenges which are best responded to not by law enforcement, but paid mental health professionals; paid social workers, and what people need is not an arrest in jail, but they need an intervention, and they need help. There was a study in one city which showed that less than half of the 911 calls that the police were asked to respond to really required a police office — that in many instances it required someone else with a different level of expertise. That study should encourage cities to think differently about how they respond to problems which traditionally are considered to be criminal issues, and how they are more community issues that require a different response. Now, of course, we’re not talking about a person charged with a murder. We’re not talking about armed robbery, here. We’re talking about mostly nonviolent offenses, status offenses, which really do not involve an act against another person. And so all this taken together points to a different direction on policing. But you can take that direction while still focusing on proactive prevention and ferreting out the most violent offenders in our communities.
Brancaccio: Mr Morial, I want to turn to a different topic, it’s economic justice two years after the murder of George Floyd. You saw all the pledges that came in from companies to pony up money in different ways to fight structural racism. Two years later, do you see those pledges being matched by actions?
Morial: I think it’s a mixed bag. And I think there’s been no definitive analysis as of yet. I do see those who made commitments and who have worked very hard to follow through. But it is still not enough. I do see, and I have witnessed, one or two that have backtracked — that hired a Chief Diversity Officer and a year later, they changed course. The message, I think, that’s important is that you cannot reverse 400 years in four months. So those that have made the commitment, I appeal to them to sustain that commitment. To not lose interest and run to the next issue, but to sustain that commitment to addressing racial injustice in America.