Members of Congress who’ve been working on federal police reform say talks have broken down. Lawmakers said the roadblock effectively ends bipartisan efforts to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021.
The legislation named to honor Floyd–whose police killing in May 2020 spurred mass global protests–is sweeping. Among its provisions are de-escalation training, banning police techniques i.e. chokeholds and some no-knock warrants, and ending qualified immunity for law enforcement. Additionally, it would enhance the ability of the Department of Justice to prosecute officers for civil rights violations.
While Democrats pushed for a bill that passed the House of Representatives in March, it yielded no Republican support. Meanwhile, companion measures in the Senate have stalled.
“I am deeply disappointed that GOP Members of the Senate have failed to take action on the urgent need for police reform. Despite months of good-faith negotiations, they have instead chosen to ignore the voices of thousands of Americans who protested peacefully to demand meaningful change,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) stated Wednesday.
For months, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC) have been hammering out a compromise, along with Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), who initially introduced the bill in the House. In a statement to ESSENCE, the Congresswoman indicated she was approached by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to discuss ways to move the bill forward and make real progress.
“When talks shifted to the Senate, Senator Booker and I attempted to engage all parties of goodwill to finally break the logjam there that has stood in the way of historic reform of our nation’s police departments,” said Bass. “We developed proposals that we crafted with law enforcement, proposals crafted with activists — we even made proposals based on executive orders from former Presidents. We accepted significant compromises, knowing that they would be a tough sell to our community, but still believing that we would be moving the needle forward on this issue. But every time, more was demanded to the point that there would be no progress made in the bill that we were left discussing.”
In a statement, Booker echoed that sentiment. “We made it clear from the beginning of our negotiations that a bill must ensure true accountability, transparency, and the policing standards necessary to bring an end to horrific incidents of violence Americans are routinely seeing — like the murder of George Floyd,” he said. “After months of exhausting every possible pathway to a bipartisan deal, it remains out of reach right now, even after working collaboratively with and securing the support of policing groups like the Fraternal Order of Police and International Association of Chiefs of Police for our proposals.”
Booker added: “Unfortunately, even with this law enforcement support and further compromises we offered, there was still too wide a gulf with our negotiating partners and we faced significant obstacles to securing a bipartisan deal.”
Scott—the lone Black Republican in the Senate–said he was “deeply disappointed” that no agreement was reached. In a statement, he said Democrats “squandered” an opportunity and left the negotiating table after months of making progress.
“I made a promise to never walk away from the table because walking away means we’re giving up on the communities and officers whose lives hang in the balance,” said Scott. “I’ve heard from and spoken to the families of the victims who have lost their lives at the hands of police. The areas where we agreed—banning chokeholds, limiting the transfer of military equipment, increased mental health resources, and more—would have brought justice to these families. I’ve also heard from police and sheriffs groups who supported the work we were doing to provide more resources to implement better training, standards, and accountability for departments.”
Attorney Ben Crump, who represents the families of George Floyd and others who have been impacted by police violence, expressed disappointment in the lack of legislative solutions.
“People – including many police leaders – have raised their voices for something to change, and partisan politics once again prevents common sense reform. We cannot let this be a tragic, lost opportunity to regain trust between citizens and police,” he said. He urged Democrats in the Senate to bring the bill to the floor for a vote “so Americans can see who is looking out for their communities’ best interests.”
The Department of Justice under Attorney General Garland has agreed to open pattern-and-practice investigations of police departments in multiple jurisdictions. The Associate Attorney General has also announced a review of grant funding of police departments to ensure that the DOJ’s grant programs are in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits federal funding to programs engaged in racial discrimination.
Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter activists, legacy civil rights groups and the White House have weighed in on the urgent need for federal police reform.
The NAACP; National Urban League; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF); National Action Network and National Council of Negro Women recently released a joint statement. The groups were joined by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
It says in part: “It is absolutely unacceptable that more than a year after George Floyd was killed and millions took to the streets worldwide to demand an end to police brutality and the systemic criminalization of Black and Brown communities, Congressional leaders failed to deliver meaningful legislation that would begin to address this nation’s longstanding history of violent, discriminatory policing…”
The statement further reads: “To meet this moment, we demand transformative change that will keep our families and communities safe and end the systemic racism that permeates our criminal legal system.”
The members of Congress all said they would continue to seek tangible solutions. Bass said President Joe Biden and the White House have been supportive, and urged the Biden-Harris Administration to “use the full extent of their constitutionally-mandated power to bring about meaningful police reform.”
Vice President Kamala Harris noted in a statement that as a U.S. Senator, she introduced the Justice in Policing Act along with Sen. Booker, and Rep. Bass in the House.
“It is part of George Floyd’s legacy, Breonna Taylor’s legacy, and that of so many others who were victims of police misconduct. It is part of our collective responsibility to one another. While legislation would not have been a panacea, it would have been a step towards equal justice.”
“Every American should be treated with dignity and respect by law enforcement,” the vice president said. “Moving forward, we are committed to exploring every available action at the executive level to advance the cause of justice in our nation.”
President Biden said on Wednesday: “I still hope to sign into law a comprehensive and meaningful police reform bill that honors the name and memory of George Floyd, because we need legislation to ensure lasting and meaningful change. But this moment demands action, and we cannot allow those who stand in the way of progress to prevent us from answering the call.”
He noted the Administration has already taken important steps, with the Justice Department announcing new policies on chokeholds, no-knock warrants, and body cameras. “In the coming weeks, we will continue to work with Senator Booker, Congresswoman Bass, and other members of Congress who are serious about meaningful police reform. The White House will continue to consult with the civil rights and law enforcement and civil rights communities, as well as victims’ families to define a path forward, including through potential further executive actions I can take to advance our efforts to live up to the American ideal of equal justice under law.”