Biden plans new restraints on law enforcement, even as blacks oppose cutting police spending: report

Reports of impending executive action on policing in honor of Black History Month this February come as Biden's approval rating among Black Americans has plummeted to an all-time low.

Updated: January 17, 2022 - 1:33am

President Joe Biden plans to roll out executive actions on police reform in honor of Black History Month this February, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News, despite the fact that most black Americans polled support a police presence in their communities.

The executive legislation would come shortly after the fight by President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Democrats to pass voting rights legislation. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki during a briefing Thursday said: "We’re very supportive of the efforts to negotiate police reform on a bipartisan level. Obviously, that didn’t move forward as we would have hoped."

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed the House in the previous Congress but stalled in the Senate. The act was reintroduced in the current Congress and passed again in the House along party lines. The bill stalled in the Senate in September 2021. 

Psaki said creating a policing executive order is a "substantive process," which is "ongoing." She would not give a timeline but said, "It’s a reflection of the President’s commitment to delivering on his promise."

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would have ended qualified immunity, which protects police officers from most civil liability cases. It also would make it easier to prosecute police officers by changing the legal standard from wilfulness to recklessness. The act would also ban chokeholds and carotid holds as well as no-knock warrants, according to NBC News. The sources did not detail specific measures that Biden would include in the executive order, but at least some form of these measures likely would be included.

Black Americans, however, largely want to retain or increase a police presence in their communities. In August 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd, 20% of black Americans wanted more policing in their area while 61% wanted the same amount of policing and 19% wanted less police presence according to a Gallup poll. More black Americans in the poll wanted a larger police presence than white Americans, at 20% to 17%. 

Support has grown among black Americans for increasing police spending, as shown in a Pew Research poll. In June 2020, 22% of black Americans said they wanted a net increase on police spending, but that number rose to 38% in September 2021. 

Further illustrating a disconnect between the Biden White House and voters, black Democrats are more likely than white Democrats to call for an increase in police spending. While 38% of black Democrats want police spending increased, 32% of white Democrats do, according to the Pew Research Center.

The executive action on policing comes as Biden's approval rating among black Americans has plummeted to an all-time low of 57%, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Jan. 12, 2022. In April 2021, by contrast, 78% of black Americans approved of Biden. 

"Every American should be treated with dignity and respect by law enforcement," Harris said in September. "Yet, that has not always been true for communities of color, where cases of discriminatory policing and excessive force are too often not met with accountability or justice." 

She alluded to executive action at that time. Senate Republicans "chose to reject even the most modest reforms," Harris said in a statement released by the White House. "Their refusal to act is unconscionable. Millions of people marched in the streets to see reform and accountability, not further inaction. Moving forward, we are committed to exploring every available action at the executive level to advance the cause of justice in our nation."

Biden made a similar statement in September. "I still hope to sign into law a comprehensive and meaningful police reform bill ... because we need legislation to ensure lasting and meaningful change," Biden said, adding that he plans on working with "members of Congress who are serious about meaningful police reform."

Republicans recently voiced concerns over possible executive police reform.

"Democrat policies to defund and dismantle law enforcement have led to chaos and increased crime," Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) tweeted. "If Biden issues an executive order that hamstrings law enforcement & endangers our communities Texas will destroy it in Court just like the vaccine mandate."

GOP Spokesman and Director of Black Media Affairs Paris Dennard called the move "another desperate attempt to pander for Black History Month."

In 2020, Sen. TimScott (R-S.C.) "authored a police reform bill that even The Root said would lead to less black ppl dying," radio host Darvio Morrow tweeted. "DC Dems used the filibuster 2 block it because they didn't want the GOP getting credit 4 this in an election year. Don't talk 2 me about the filibuster."