Politics, blame game present hurdles for potential police reform laws

by Jacob Fuller

Chris Lieberman, FISM News

Despite calls for police reform in the wake of Tyre Nichol’s death at the hands of five Memphis police officers, legislation seems unlikely to pass in a divided U.S. Congress, with Democrats and Republicans blaming one another for failing to make progress on the issue.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told ABC’s Martha Raddatz Sunday that he would like to see Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), two of the leading voices on police reform in Congress, return to the bargaining table to pass legislation.

But Scott said Monday on the Senate floor, “I never left the table.”

In 2020, Booker and Scott, along with then-Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), led negotiations for a police reform bill following the death of George Floyd. The Democrats proposed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would have banned police chokeholds and no-knock warrants, among other reforms.

The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House in March 2021 with only one Republican voting in support. However, it failed to gain Republican support in the Senate, dooming the legislation. Republicans objected to the bill’s rolling back of qualified immunity, which shields officers from liability in most civil lawsuits.

Following the bill’s failure to pass, Booker said, “On basic fundamental issues of police reform, we have gotten no support from Republicans, and I hope people understand this.”

During the negotiations, however, Democrats refused to consider Scott’s Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act, which would also ban chokeholds, fund more police training, and make it a duty for police officers to intervene when they see a fellow officer using excessive force.

In the end, the only legislation that was able to make it through Congress was the Law Enforcement De-Escalation Training Act of 2022, which provided $124 million in funding for law enforcement agencies to develop new curricula.

Scott called out Democrats for blaming Republicans for blocking police reform, telling the Senate, “It was Sen. Durbin who filibustered my JUSTICE Act. It was Sen. Durbin who called the effort to make de-escalation training more available a token piece of legislation.”

“We should have simple legislation that we can agree upon that has been agreed upon in the past, but too often too many are too concerned with who gets the credit,” Scott went on to say.

According to Politico, Booker plans to re-introduce a version of the George Floyd Act as soon as this week, though the legislation seems unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House.

With renewed calls for change, Lindsey Graham indicated a possibility of compromise on the issue of qualified immunity. On Sunday he tweeted, “I oppose civil lawsuits against individual officers. However, holding police departments accountable makes sense and they should face liability for the misconduct of their officers.”

But not all Republicans are convinced that legislation is the answer. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told NBC’s Chuck Todd, “I don’t know if there’s any law that can stop that evil that we saw.”

“What strikes me is just the lack of respect for human life. I don’t know that any law, any training, any reform is going to change,” Jordan said.