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Congress’ failed attempt at police reform

Despite their differences, the House and Senate bills had common ground

Congress’ failed attempt at police reform

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., right, accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, center, and others, speaks at a news conference on June 17 in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

While local leaders across the country made pledges to defund the police, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have resisted doing so. Even top Democrats such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Karen Bass, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have hesitated or outright said they don’t support defunding the police. 

But both Republicans and Democrats agree there’s a clear need for police reform. They just can’t agree on how to fix it, despite some overlap in legislation. 

On the Republican side, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., one of three black U.S. senators, authored the GOP’s version of a police reform bill. On the Democratic side, the Congressional Black Caucus took charge in drafting the House of Representatives bill. They have similarities: Both include banning federal law enforcement officers from using chokeholds and incentivizing local and state agencies to ban chokeholds. Both attempt to curb the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases. Both seek to create a national database of police officers’ disciplinary records and use of force. Both call for studies and committees that develop better training and policing practices. Both declare lynching a federal crime. 

But the bills differed significantly in achieving those goals: Democrats want an outright ban on chokeholds, and Republicans want a ban except when deadly force is authorized. While Democrats would ban no-knock warrants, Republicans want to first collect data on them. Democrats want to end qualified immunity (which protects individual police officers from lawsuits), but that’s a non-starter for Republicans. What’s glaringly missing from both bills: Police union reform, even though unions have stood in the way of past police reform.

Nearly two months since George Floyd’s death, these bills look to be going nowhere. The two parties locked heads after initial overtures to work together. Democrats rejected a motion to bring the GOP bill to the Senate floor, calling the bill “woefully inadequate.” A day later the House passed its own bill on a 236-181 vote. Every Democrat and three Republicans voted for it, despite White House instructions to Republicans to oppose it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he’ll block the House bill from entering the Senate. Since then, House Democrats included money for their bill’s provisions in a separate appropriations bill.

Though both parties want to demonstrate they’re willing to enact police reforms, neither has made much effort in past years. An exception is Sen. Scott, who has tried to address the lack of data on police brutality for years. In 2015, Scott wrote a bill called “The Walter Scott Notification Act,” named after an unarmed black man whom a police officer shot and killed during a traffic stop in South Carolina. The bill would have required every law enforcement agency in the U.S. to report all police-related shootings and deaths to the federal government, including data on race. Currently, less than 45 percent of law enforcement agencies report such information to the FBI. Republicans shot Scott’s bill down, and Democrats stood aside. Scott reintroduced that bill several more times, even slipping it as an amendment to a 2018 criminal justice reform bill, but it went nowhere—until 2020. The GOP police reform bill that the Democrats recently rejected is an expanded version of Scott’s Walter Scott Notification Act. 

Though Democrats criticize the Republican bill as inadequate, part of their own bill copies the Walter Scott Notification Act. Scott’s bill might actually have more teeth: To enforce regulations, both the GOP and House bills propose withholding (or defunding, though both parties try hard not to use that word) federal funds from noncompliant local law enforcement agencies. But Scott’s bill calls for a higher financial penalty on agencies that don’t implement police reforms (20 percent) than the House bill (10 percent). 

Even Michael Harriot, an outspoken journalist at The Root, a left-leaning black online magazine, acknowledged that Scott’s bill may be better: “As someone who is not a huge fan of the Republican Party or its tactics, it might pain some to hear this as much as it pains me to say it, but the truth is, the GOP bill is more likely to stop cops from killing black people.”

Sophia Lee

Sophia Lee

Sophia is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute and University of Southern California graduate. Sophia resides in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.


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  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Thu, 07/09/2020 01:16 pm

    "What’s glaringly missing from both bills: Police union reform..."

    Exactly.  As usual, politicians propose solutions which don't address the actual problem, which is bad policing.  Police unions protect bad cops.  They also support the GOP.  And there we have it.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Sun, 07/12/2020 07:36 pm

    Police unions are supposed to benefit the people they represent - just like any other union. You seem to forget that we put the police officers in the unenviable position of confronting the "bad guys" who have no love for the police and will gladly kill one or a few if possible. The police have to make split second decisions in order to protect themselves by the work we the citizens charge them to do through our elected officials. As such, it is only reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt when people are killed, unless there is strong evidence to the contrary. The new restrictions about not allowing choke holds is also dangerous for the small police officer, be it male or female, will have less tools to use to subdue a large and hostile law breaker resulting in more deaths by lethal force using their weapons. 

  • JerryM
    Posted: Sun, 07/26/2020 02:13 am

    There is a parallel argument that could be made about teacher's unions, a democratic support base, which no one seems to be discussing.

  • RC
    Posted: Thu, 07/09/2020 02:08 pm

    I don’t think it is a wide spread problem needing wide spread reform.  Yes, it is easy to count up a lot of cases across the country, but we live in a huge country, 321 million people. I also think that Senator Scott’s issue, about lacking data is critical. You cannot make a good decision that will really address the problem without reasonably good data.  Also, according to the FBI records 3,177 blacks were murdered in 2018 and of those 2,600 were caused by other blacks.   

  • KeithT
    Posted: Fri, 07/10/2020 12:22 pm

    If the old maxim is true that most murders are committed between people who know each other, then it only makes sense that most murders would be done by someone of one's own group.  The FBI reported that 2677 of 3315 murders of white people were done by other white people.  Hmm.  Not much of a difference in the ratios.  So why is it that one never sees the number of "white on white" murders?  Citing "black on black" murder statistics implies only blacks would do such a thing.  From what kind of attitude comes such an implication?

    Additionally, the goal of police reform isn't general population murder reform.  The need for police reform stems from a widespread disparity of treatment by those who are supposed to protect ALL citizens EQUALLY, not just white people.  Just because white people generally don't expereince and therefore don't see the disparities doesn't mean the disparities don't exist and exist pervasively.

    Where in the Bible do we see any indication that human police officers are exempt from being sinners?  In this regard, like everyone else, are they not in need of initial and progressive sanctification/reform?