Jan 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Racial leaders skeptical of Biden's police panel

A crowd is seen outside a New York City church last summer protesting the death of George Floyd.

Police brutality rally in New York after the killing of George Floyd. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Several racial justice leaders remain skeptical of a police oversight panel being formed by the Biden transition team, and one leading Black Lives Matter activist turned down an offer to be part of it.

Why it matters: There was already an urgency for Biden to address police brutality following George Floyd's death, but there's little patience among some racial justice leaders who disagree with the way Biden still talks about policing.

Some say Biden's team delayed moving ahead with the task force because it was concerned about affecting the outcome of last week's Georgia Senate runoff elections.

  • During a December meeting with civil rights leaders, the president-elect said outside pressure around police reform could hurt Democrats because of the way the GOP used phrases like "defund the police" to "beat the living hell out of us across the country.”
  • The one Black Lives Matter activist who declined an opportunity to be involved in the nascent commission asked not to be publicly identified. A Biden transition official said that no offers have been made to any potential panel members. 

Driving the news: The siege of the U.S. Capitol last week renewed conversations about policing standards and use of force.

  • Many were quick to compare how police treated the pro-Trump mob, which was mostly white, versus Black Lives Matter demonstrators last summer.
  • The former was able to storm into the seat of the government; the latter was greeted with National Guardsmen, other federal agents and barricades.

Biden committed last June to form a national police oversight commission during the first 100 days of his presidency. He has also included systemic racism as one of the four major crises facing the country.

While some racial justice leaders disagree with Biden's rhetoric on policing and remain wary of this task force, they want to help but feel sidelined because they haven't been consulted or heard much of anything about it.

  • Black Lives Matter co-founder and Principal of Black to the Future Action Fund Alicia Garza said, “As my mentors have told me: Task forces are where good ideas go to die.”
  • Garza said leaked audio from Biden's recent meeting was "confusing in this moment.”

NAACP president Derrick Johnson told Axios he hasn't discussed the police oversight panel with Biden's team but continues to push for his own idea: appointing a racial equity czar.

  • "Every conversation I start and end with the need for it," he said, "because the urgency for this to happen is immediate."

Yes, but: Some are heartened by recent Justice Department appointments announced by Biden, saying that if Vanita Gupta — a civil rights lawyer tapped to be associate attorney general — is overseeing the panel, it will be in good hands.

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