Protests following the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 in Minneapolis prompted a push for police reform. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was created and was introduced in February 2021. Now bipartisan police reform legislation talks ended without a deal.
The talks were led by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Karen Bass of California. They decided on Sept. 22 to call off negotiations with a group of Republicans led by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Many observers say the end to the police reform talks was near after Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said that that police reform didn’t need to eliminate qualified immunity for police, even though the Democrats were pushing for this.
Qualified immunity is a defense that law enforcement and other government officials can raise in response to lawsuits seeking monetary damages for alleged civil rights violations, according to Time.
House Majority Whip Clyburn suggested during a May 9 interview on CNN’s “State of the Union ”that he would be willing to support policing reform legislation even if it did not end qualified immunity.
“I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfection. I just won’t do that,” Clyburn said.
“I know what the perfect bill will be. We have proposed that. I want to see good legislation. And I know that, sometimes, you have to compromise… If we don’t get qualified immunity now, then we will come back and try to get it later. But I don’t want to see us throw out a good bill because we can’t get a perfect bill,” he said.
Clyburn’s remarks were a major departure from his fellow Democrats who, along with civil rights activists, have pushed for qualified immunity to be eliminated or changed.
“I have been saying from the beginning we have well-trained police officers. We have got to do a better job of recruiting police officers. We have got to get good people. No matter how good the training, if you don’t have good people, the training does no good,” Clyburn said, the Washington Post reported. “Now, the problem we have got now is that there are some bad apples in policing. We have seen it in our living rooms. We know it’s still there. We have got to root out the bad apples, and let’s go forward with a good, solid program.”
Republicans picked up on Clyburn’s remarks and used them to boost their stance that qualified immunity must remain in place.
Booker announced that Republicans would not get on board with measures that even the Fraternal Order of Police had agreed to compromise on or standards for law enforcement accreditation, The Intercept reported.
“The effort from the very beginning was to get police reform that would raise professional standards, police reform that would create a lot more transparency, and then police reform that would create more accountability,” Booker told reporters on Sept. 22 after leaving a meeting with Scott. “We were not able to come to agreements on those three big areas.”
Booker and Bass had been trying to work out a deal with Scott since the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, legislation that lacked enough Republican support to clear the Senate, NBC News reported.
“We made it clear from the beginning of our negotiations that a bill must ensure true accountability, transparency, and the policing standards necessary to bring an end to horrific incidents of violence Americans are routinely seeing — like the murder of George Floyd. After months of exhausting every possible pathway to a bipartisan deal, it remains out of reach right now,” Booker said in a statement.
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Scott, on the other hand, suggested that Democrats wanted to defund the police.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki claimed the Republicans caused the breakdown of talks and said President Joe Biden may take executive action on the issue.
“Republicans rejected reforms that even the previous president had supported and refuse to engage on key issues that many law enforcement, were willing to address and so we’re disappointed. The president is disappointed,” Psaki said.
Biden said in a statement that “I still hope to sign into law a comprehensive and meaningful police reform bill that honors the name and memory of George Floyd because we need legislation to ensure lasting and meaningful change. But this moment demands action, and we cannot allow those who stand in the way of progress to prevent us from answering the call.”