- Lee Merrittcivil rights attorney who has represented the family of George Floyd and other victims of police violence.
As the world marks the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, attorney Lee Merritt says there is still a long way to go in reforming “the deadliest police culture in the modern world.” Merritt, who has represented the Floyd family and other victims of police brutality, says Republicans and Democrats should come together to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, set off a nationwide uprising and global movement calling for an end to racism and for the defense of Black lives.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you represent so many of these families. In Minneapolis last night, community members, civil rights leaders, George Floyd’s families gathered to mark the first anniversary of his murder. The anniversary is actually Tuesday. This is local community organizer and pastor Carmen Means.
CARMEN MEANS: So, what has changed? The game hasn’t changed. The game remains the same. But what has changed is that you’ve been activated on a whole 'nother level. There's a warrior on the inside of you that was activated on 5/25 on a whole ’nother level.
AMY GOODMAN: So, President Biden will host the Floyd family tomorrow, on the anniversary, at the White House. And this is the week, the deadline for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, supposedly, originally, the family demanding that it be passed by now. You have New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who said he believed it would. He’s negotiating with Senator Scott of South Carolina. What is happening with this? And the significance of this meeting at the White House tomorrow?
LEE MERRITT: On behalf of the families that I represent, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Ronald Greene, Jemel Roberson, Atatiana Jefferson and so many more, we’ve been in contact with Cory Booker, invested in the passing of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. We believe that a compromise bill, that will take some very radical and necessary steps, a bill that Democrats and Republicans should be proud of, as a first step, will be passed relatively soon.
However, it’s so important that we emphasize that it is just one step to move the deadliest police culture in the modern world closer to something that reflects a culture that appreciates human rights for all. You know, there are so many more steps that need to be taken. But I am proud of the work of Cory Booker in the United States Senate and the Biden leadership in working with families to come up with some solutions, some immediate solutions. It’s been far too long before we tackled this issue of American policing. And I think it will be a relief that we’re moving in the right direction a year after George Floyd’s death.
AMY GOODMAN: Apparently, the sticking point, Republicans demanding that there not be qualified immunity for police. Explain this concept.
LEE MERRITT: Yeah. I honestly think it’s [inaudible]. I don’t think the Republicans are so hell-bent on keeping qualified immunity out. I think that the stronger aspect or one of the more important aspects of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is the section that allows the federal government to bring charges against officers for reckless behavior. Right now the standard is just intentional. And I’ll get back to qualified immunity. But right now the standard is just intentional acts, before the federal government’s authority to intervene is invoked. We wanted to expand — part of the goal of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was to expand federal authority to hold police officers accountable, which states often fail. I don’t believe that part of the bill will pass.
The compromise is, though, from my talks with Mr. Booker and others working on this legislation, qualified immunity will end. And qualified immunity is an unnecessary shield, a judicially created shield for police officers to avoid civil accountability. And moving the barrier of qualified immunity away from families so that they can hold municipalities accountable for their policies and practices that are violent and detrimental to the Black community is also a huge part. And it’s something that so many people gathered for, marched for, organized around, passed on a local level. And I think that we’ll see it pass federally, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Lee Merritt, we want to thank you for being with us, civil rights attorney representing the family of Ronald Greene, also the families of Ahmaud Arbery, who was out for a jog when he was killed, as well as George Floyd.
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