Republicans resist meaningful police reforms in aftermath of George Floyd's death

Jun 26, 2020 at 11:00 am
click to enlarge A recent protest against police brutality in Detroit. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
A recent protest against police brutality in Detroit.

Republicans on the state and federal levels are obstructing meaningful police reforms in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved the Democrats’ sweeping police reform bill, which would impose a ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases and curb “qualified immunity” for cops, making them personally liable for excessive force and other constitutional violations. Only three Republicans, including Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, voted in favor of the bill, called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020.

The Congressional Black Caucus crafted the bill, which also would empower prosecutors to investigate misconduct, create a national registry to curb abusive cops from moving from one department to another, and grant subpoena power to the Justice Department to investigate police departments accused of racial discrimination.

The bill is expected to die in the Republican-led Senate, which proposed its own watered-down measure that would do little to hold police accountable for misconduct. The bill, for example, does not restrict qualified immunity, nor does it give additional tools to prosecutors and the Justice Department to investigate claims of misconduct and racism.

“We as a country must acknowledge the need for change to create a future that is inclusive, just, with equality for all and free of hatred and fear,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, of Michigan, said in a news release. “This starts with addressing the systematic barriers facing Black and minority communities and the resulting inequities in health, housing, education, along with racism and a broken justice system.”

On the state level, Democrats are taking the charge in proposing reforms.

To track bad cops, Attorney General Dana Nessel has proposed creating a statewide, publicly accessible database of officers who have committed misconduct. The registry is part of a seven-point plan designed to hold police more accountable and increase transparency so that problem cops can't go from city to city with impunity.

Under the plan, the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards would have the authority to strip officers of their licenses for misconduct, officers who commit felonies related to misconduct on duty would forfeit their retirement benefits, law enforcement agencies would be required to report use-of-force data and maintain disciplinary records for each officer, and police would be mandated to undergo de-escalation and implicit-bias training.

"We must do more than just condemn bigotry and acts of excessive force committed by law enforcement officers. We must act," Nessel said in a news release last week. "Making meaningful and concrete changes doesn't end here, but it's crucial that we move first with measures which create better accountability and more transparency to the actions of law enforcement here in Michigan. This work is a marathon, not a sprint and I am committed to moving with all deliberate speed in making progress on this front."

The House and Senate in Lansing are controlled by Republicans, some of whom expressed support for reforms.

The state Senate passed legislation earlier this month that would require de-escalation and anti-bias training and ongoing mental-health screenings for police. The bill is in the House, where lawmakers have yet to vote on it, despite calls by Democrats to fast-track it.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the legislation is a good start, but much more needs to be done.

“These are steps in the right direction, but until Black mothers can share the same set of concerns as White mothers when their children leave their homes, we have work to do,” Whitmer said in a news release. “All Michiganders have the right to be treated with dignity and respect by law enforcement, and I’m determined to see it through.”

Neither Republicans nor Democrats have answered protesters' calls to defund the police, which is shorthand for redirecting money from police departments to fund youth and community services, education, housing development, homeless programs, mental health services, and parks and recreation.

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