TV pundits and politicians were quick to say the country changed forever after 2020’s social uprisings. But where’s the transformational police reform bill to prove it?
Months after a self-imposed deadline to reform police following the public lynching of George Floyd in May 2020, President Joe Biden has been unable to bring Congress towards final passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
After repeatedly missing deadlines, and amidst domestic and international crises facing the nation, the small bipartisan group of Congress members tasked with negotiating the bill has failed to make progress.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) came together following the collective outrage against police killings. They promised to succeed with negotiations on a transformational police reform bill that would be able to pass the full Congress.
Bipartisan group unable to deliver results
“The good news is we’ve not resigned ourselves to stopping. We believe there’s still a path forward, so that’s really good news,” Sen. Tim Scott told NBC News in August after missing yet another self-imposed deadline.
Yet, negotiations have stalled over what activists consider key elements: use of force and qualified immunity for police officers.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would establish a nationwide database of police misconduct and create nationwide standards for police use of force, along with banning the use of chokeholds. It would also make it easier for prosecutors to indict officers for excessive force. Perhaps most significantly, it would ban the use of qualified immunity, which frees individual officers from facing any personal financial liability for misconduct and abuse, passing the cost onto the city’s taxpayers.
Cities have paid out millions of dollars in recent years due to police misconduct lawsuits. Supporters of ending qualified immunity believe it’s a tool that shields individual police officers from facing economic repercussions for abuse.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) stalls progress
A few months ago, it seemed as though the bill would pass after Sen. Cory Booker managed to gain support from the Fraternal Order of Police to end qualified immunity. But without support from Sheriff’s associations, Sen. Tim Scott wasn’t willing to move forward.
George Floyd’s murderer, Derek Chauvin, was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes until he died. The viral and graphic murder led to nationwide uprisings against police abuse. Yet, it appears Congress continues to hold the timetable for justice, with no indications that the bill will be passed this year.
And as crime rates rise in cities across the nation, Republican talking points against defunding police make it that much more difficult for Congress to have the courage to boldly pass transformational reforms.
If the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act can’t pass when Democrats hold the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, how do they expect to pass the bill after the midterm elections, when Republicans are expected to regain at least one chamber? Better yet, how do they expect to convince non-voters to support them when they can’t deliver on one of the most important issues facing our nation?
Passing a lukewarm bill would be slap in the face
To be fair, the bipartisan group has acknowledged that the issue is too important to give up on.
“We’re working to get as much as we can done that’s meaningful, substantive and brings accountability and transparency to policing,” Sen. Cory Booker previously said. However, stripping down the bill’s most essential elements would almost certainly cause progressive Congress members to drop support for the bill, imperiling its passage.
Police kill roughly 1,000 U.S. residents every year on average, according to research from Mapping Police Violence. That number hasn’t changed even during the pandemic. What has changed is an increasing lack of tolerance for the status quote.
I thought protesters had made it clear last year that incremental change is no longer an option. How many more people must risk health and freedom in the blazing streets to reach the hearts of lawmakers in air conditioned halls of Congress?
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and others have stressed the need to “get something done.” He even claimed qualified immunity doesn’t have to be in the final bill.
But politicians eager to pass a trimmed down bill or nothing at all are risking more than their political futures. Their inaction risks causing a repeat of last year’s mass uprisings and a continuance of police lynchings across the country.