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Police Reform: A Last-Minute Buzzword for the 2020 Election

Will members of Congress work together to fix policing – or vilify each other for votes?

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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 by 20% 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 passed the bill Thursday, June 25, but it will likely fail in the Senate. This bill also cuts funding for departments that use chokeholds, but only by 10%. 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.

James Fite

James is our wordsmith extraordinaire, a legislation hound and lover of all things self-reliant and free. An author of politics and fiction (often one and the same) at LibertyNation.com and LNGenZ.com, he homesteads in the Arkansas wilderness.

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