President Biden’s SOTU Should Announce Concrete Action on Police Violence
By Robert S. McCaw, CAIR Director of Government Affairs Department
Tonight, President Biden plans deliver his second State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress and the American people. Two years into his administration, the interconnected issues of racism, bigotry, and police violence continue to impact the lives of far too many Americans without any real change being made to our nation’s laws.
Many Americans want to know what progress, if any, the White House has made in tackling this serious issue, and what it plans to do in the absence of congressional action.
Over the past several weeks, our nation once again watched in horror as footage from police body-worn cameras revealed in January that , a 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was beaten so viciously by five Memphis police officers during a minor traffic stop that he later died.
Mr. Nichols’ name is now added to that seemingly endless list of other Black Americans who were wrongly killed by police officers, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Daunte Wright. Their deaths sparked nationwide calls for systemic change that has yet to occur even as more people experience abuses, including American Muslims.
Last week, the Sacramento Valley/Central California office of CAIR and other organizations held a press conference in response to the police shooting of an Afghan Muslim teenager in Tracy, Calif., saying it could have been avoided by using “other than potentially deadly force.”
In January, the Massachusetts chapter of CAIR also attended a community rally, organized by the Bangladesh Association of New England (BANE), seeking justice for Sayed Arif Faisal, who was shot and killed in by Cambridge police.
And this month, the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR and the CAIR Legal Defense Fund (CAIR LDF) filed a lawsuit against the Oklahoma City Police Department for its relentless targeting of American Muslim Air Force veteran Saadiq Long based solely on his name being unlawfully included on a federal terror watchlist.
During many of these ordeals, police would pull over Long’s car, and in some cases have their guns pointed at him while shouting contradicting orders. Only by the grace of Allah, he was not shot.
While CAIR’s lawsuit days ago effectively put a stop to this practice in that local jurisdiction, the targeting of Muslims on the watchlist by local police without any evidence or just-cause continues to be commonplace.
With Republicans in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, it is unlikely that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — who will commence tonight’s address with the bang of his gavel — will work with President Biden to hammer out a deal to pass comprehensive law enforcement reform like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The only House Republican to vote for that act in the last session of Congress said they supported the bill by mistake.
Although President Biden should use his State of the Union to put pressure on Congress to act, he must prepare to act on his own if Congress refuses to do the right thing.
Last year, President Biden issued an executive order establishing the National Law Enforcement Accountability database, increased measures for investigating and prosecuting criminal civil rights violations, including acts carried out by law enforcement, and mandating body-worn-cameras on federal law enforcement officers.
After the State of the Union, President Biden should go further adopt additional law enforcement reform measures packaged into a new executive order that assesses how well the National Law Enforcement Accountability database is being utilized and makes federal funding for local law enforcement contingent on departments reporting to that database.
President Biden has an opportunity to send a strong message tonight that police violence will not be tolerated and that the White House will use executive action to address as many problems as possible. Many Americans, including the American Muslim community, are counting on President Biden to take bold action.