Americans on both sides of the aisle demand solutions in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody. The people have pointed out a problem, and members of Congress have a chance to work together to fix it. But will they seize it, or merely vilify each other for votes in the upcoming elections? Both the House Democrats and the Senate Republicans have proposed bills to answer the call, but neither seems willing to consider the other’s offering. Has real police reform in the shadow of multiple lives lost become no more than the latest buzzword going into the 2020 election?
A Sad Day for the Senate
Any hopes of some grand bipartisan effort to haul back on the reins of runaway police power – and more importantly, the abuse thereof – were dashed as Senate Democrats shut down the GOP bill without so much as discussing other options. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) proposed his “Justice Act” Wednesday, June 17, and from the very beginning, the Democrats were calling it dead on arrival.
The Justice Act would cut federal funding for police departments that continue to use chokeholds and would track no-knock raids, but it wouldn’t ban either outright. It would also stiffen requirements for law enforcement to keep “use of force” reports and establish a federal database to track such incidents. Additionally, there would be funding for training to de-escalate situations and to create a “duty to intervene” in hopes of preventing excessive force.
The bill included a few concessions to the Democrats, such as fulfilling their long-held wish to make lynching a federal hate crime and launching a study of the social status of black men and boys – an idea touted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Addressing the opposition’s complaints, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised an open amendment process. Alas, all of this was to no avail. When the vote occurred, only Senators Doug Jones (D-AL), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Angus King (I-ME) crossed the aisle in support of the Justice Act. Sen. Scott’s proposal required 60 votes to advance – and it fell short by five.
Will the House Win?
House Democrats revealed their reform bill on May 25, called the “Justice in Policing Act.” The House is expected to vote on it Thursday, June 25. If passed, it will take significantly more action than the GOP’s Justice Act. Rather than cutting funding for chokeholds or tracking no-knock raids, the Democrats’ bill would ban both practices altogether. It, too, would establish a national database for tracking police use of force, but would further require the information be categorized by age, race, sex, religion, and – if applicable – disability of the victim. Additionally, there would be a public record of all officer violations so that accountability couldn’t be avoided simply by switching jurisdictions.
There would also be new training on racial and religious bias, and like the GOP bill, lynching would become a federal crime. Perhaps the most controversial actions, though, are the change in qualified immunity and the way force is justified. This legislation would lower the bar for officers to face criminal prosecution by allowing charges not only when misconduct is deemed intentional, but also in cases of reckless misconduct. As for justifying use of force, the restriction goes from “reasonable” to “necessary.”
Democrats in both chambers seem confident that this bill will clear Congress, but Senate Republicans warn that it’s as doomed as their own bill turned out to be.
Do They Want Solutions?
As both the Democrats and Republicans seem to balk against each other’s offerings – as similar as they are – it raises a question that must be answered: Does either side really want a solution to this problem, or is it more important to them as a campaign issue in this highly divisive election year? So far, each side has asked the other to come to the table. In the case of the Senate GOP, they now lay the blame at the feet of Senate Dems for refusing to discuss the Justice Act. The Justice in Policing Act hasn’t been voted on yet, but the Democrats are already warning that the Republicans will be to blame if it fails.
Each claims that the American people will remember, come election day, that the other side didn’t care enough to make it happen. If only that were true, perhaps we could truly drain the Swamp. Sadly, no real change can be expected. The left will always blame the GOP and the right will always blame the Democrats – it hardly matters where the fault lies.
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