The police reforms that are currently stalling in the U.S. Senate are so fundamental, so necessary, and so modest that it's embarrassing that they're not yet a law.
Much of what the House's "George Floyd Justice in Policing Act" passed was passed by the police in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Much of the rest has been stuck in the discussion phase for decades, which a long time ago has been proposed by various commissions to investigate why blacks in particular are so angry with police tactics that leave so many of them dead.
The answers are self-explanatory. Should the police only use lethal violence as a last resort? Naturally. Should the police be prohibited from deliberately stopping blood flow to a person's brain or oxygen to the lungs in a chokehold that can be permanently disabled or fatal? Most likely. Should people abused by the police or the survivors of those killed by them be able to sue officials for excessive use of violence? Yes.
These and other points of the bill proposed by the Black Caucus of Congress and adopted by the House of Representatives on June 25 express fundamental American values of equal justice and freedom from undue government interference or violence. If the GOP-controlled Senate had stayed true to the principles of the Republican Party, it would have adopted the measure instead of postponing it.
Caucus chairwoman Karen Bass, a Los Angeles democrat, told Wednesday's Times editors that the bill was "tightly tailored" to save lives and achieve justice. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Who joined her, summed up the situation: "We are a loving country with a malicious and cruel criminal justice system."
The Senate has its own bill drafted by Republican Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina. The reforms are minor, limited mainly to fact-finding, and promise to withhold federal funds from non-compliant police departments. This would maintain "qualified immunity" from liability, which practically relieves the police of the consequences of bad actions.
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Both bills are fueled by the national outpouring of emotion and determination after Floyd's murder on May 25 under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer who was later released and charged with murder. Floyd's death was followed by weeks of protests that drew attention to other outrageous police killings, such as Breonna Taylor's death in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky, in March. The police broke in without warning when they used a no-knock warrant to search for illegal drugs. None were found.
The murder of Taylor is less an escalation of fatal police tactics than an increasing public awareness of them. It is known in the American public that blacks are stopped, questioned or killed on the street by police, whether on foot or in the car, more often than others. But staying at home doesn't seem to offer much protection.
The house bill would severely limit no-knock warrants. The Senate would only require the departments to report when they employ them.
The same national attention that makes worthy but stalled police reforms politically feasible can also serve as an obstacle to their transition. Two years ago, President Trump helped lead a rare bipartisan effort to reform the country's criminal and detention policies. A similar agreement on policing is far less likely, however, given the upcoming elections and the jockey's advantage over a campaign issue.
In the meantime, many police opponents have rejected the call for modest reforms, which were proposed in the House of Representatives bill in favor of a more extensive move away from the police. Some are calling for the abolition of the police as a whole.
Critics argue that reforms only maintain an unjustified police presence in their communities. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department's leadership of the Chokeholds Defense Department – chief Daryl Gates was notoriously claiming in 1982 that young black men were injured by them because their veins or arteries "do not open as quickly as normal people" virtually remove and update their education and guidelines on protection against racial discrimination. And California passed a law last year that allows the police to shoot only when needed. But excessive violence and preventable police killings continue.
Bass sees room for transformation and reform in a distinctive way and in her honor. The Defund the Police movement, Bass told the editors, is a "reimbursement movement" to return resources – better housing, jobs and education – to communities that have suffered from divestments for decades.
This type of reinvestment is essential and the need is great – too big to be met only by transferring law enforcement budgets to social services. However, in anticipation of more extensive change, it is certainly time for higher standards of police behavior, better measurement of compliance, and more certain consequences for failure.