In the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, Congress has been at work in an attempt to create a police reform bill that would accomplish the changes necessary to ensure that such tragedies never happen again. The Senate bill, S. 3985, sponsored by South Carolina Republican Tim Scott, is called the “Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act of 2020” or the “JUSTICE Act.”
The bill would provide grants and incentives to local police departments to ban the use of chokeholds, invest in body cameras and de-escalation training, and track the use of “no-knock” warrants. It would also create a reporting scheme for instances of excessive force and would make lynching a federal crime.
In a procedural vote that would have allowed the bill to be debated and amended on the floor of the Senate, the final tally came up four votes short of the required 60. All 53 Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Angus King, I-Maine, voted to proceed on the bill. The remaining 43 Democrats and one Independent, Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, voted no, resulting in a filibuster of the proposed legislation.
Sen. Scott, an African American, understands what it means to grow up in poverty and to suffer injustice because of the color of his skin. In a statement issued by several Republicans who worked on the bill following the failed vote, Scott accused the Democrats of playing politics:
“I am amazed that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle refused to vote for legislation that would provide real life solutions for the American people,” he said. “If my colleagues had issues with the legislation, they should have accepted that we were willing to give them multiple amendment votes so that we can make the necessary adjustments to get this across the president’s desk. The JUSTICE Act is a first step in the right direction, and it has the power to help to ensure that the list of names of those who died at the hands of law enforcement officers does not grow longer. I hope that the American people see how the Democrats blocked solutions from coming to their communities for the sake of partisan politics.”
Scott also gave an impassioned speech from the Senate floor following the vote that warned of trouble to come if Congress chooses to play politics over the issue of police reform rather than come up with real solutions.
Senate Democrats complained that the bill did not go far enough. House Democrats are preparing their own version.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said “[Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell has put up a hollow policing bill to bait us into playing his political games. But we’re not here to play games. And I do not intend to be played.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., issued a statement saying, “We will not meet this moment with half-measures and half-steps that don’t meaningfully fix our broken policing system. The Justice Act is woefully inadequate, deeply flawed, and painfully weak, but don’t take my word for it – take the word of the more than 130 civil rights and faith-based organizations that have condemned the bill for not creating the type of accountability and transparency that is truly needed to end police brutality and change the culture of law enforcement in this country.”
Senators Harris and Booker have been working with House Democrats on their own bill, which should be voted on in the House soon.
Sen. McConnell could bring the Scott bill up again at some point in the future for another vote.
Photo from C-SPAN2 via YouTube