Sunday, June 13, 2021

Policing reform talks sputtered in Congress amid partisan bickering

WASHINGTON – Efforts to reach a bipartisan compromise on a national overhaul of policing are faltering as Congress collapses as years of negotiations threaten to break down under the weight of ideological differences and a quick window for action.

After a jury in Minneapolis in April convicted the white police officer who killed George Floyd of murder, lawmakers in both parties were cautiously optimistic that the verdict would provide new momentum to break the deadlock that fraudulent negotiators have had since the death of mr. Floyd. President Biden also gave his support and called on Congress to act against the first anniversary of the assassination, in late May.

But this deadline has come and gone, and weeks after the verdict, negotiators are still at odds over the same roster of divisive issues, especially whether to change criminal and civil fines to make it easier to punish police officers for misconduct. Legislators breaking the deadlock, and police force groups involved in the talks, are now disputing a new proposal, and there is still no clear way to bridge their gap before a self-imposed deadline at the end of June.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Republican chief envoy, on the issue, which was raised even more recently. “The devil is in the details, and we meet the devil now.”

Mr. Scott and his Democratic counterparts – Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Representative Karen Bass of California – were hoping to gather the final details of a rare two-party deal at the moment. The two parties have repeatedly expressed optimism that they could merge competing proposals introduced last summer into a single bill to improve the training of officers, create a national database to detect police misconduct and make it easier to make for victims of misconduct to sue officers or their departments in court.

Instead, Democrats and Republicans on Thursday traded veiled brackets over a written proposal this week by Mr. Booker was dispersed, which apparently only drove the two parties further apart and pitted powerful law enforcement groups against each other.

Democrats told their Republican counterparts that at least one such group, the Fraternal Order of Police, had supported the key provisions of the document, according to congressional assistants familiar with the talks. The New York Times received a copy of the text.

The proposed measure would lower the threshold of the federal government to prosecute officers who commit serious misconduct and violate the constitutional rights of an individual. It would also change the legal doctrine known as qualified immunity to make it easier for victims or their families to sue police departments and municipalities, but not individual officers.

But rather than delivering a major breakthrough, it seems that Mr. Booker’s idea backfires. Republicans accused him of acting alone in an attempt to pursue important policing interests in favor of an overly liberal bill. The more conservative National Sheriffs’ Association blew up its contents and began working hard against it on Capitol Hill, and the Fraternal Order of Police quickly retaliated.

“There’s no way in hell,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. “The talks on police reform were completely different from the document that was produced.”

Mr Graham argued that the proposed amendments to the criminal law would enable the “most liberal federal prosecutors” to destroy the lives of individual police officers who caused minor injuries such as cuts and abrasions – a statement exaggerated by one Democratic assistant finished. Republicans were more supportive of making it easier for victims to sue departments and cities, but also addressed the issue of how Mr. Booker structured the change.

“If a trade union thinks it’s a good price for the police, I would want my money back if I were a policeman,” he said. Graham said, referring to the fraternal order of police.

Jonathan Thompson, the executive director of the sheriff’s group, said his members had “serious concerns” about the concept, “but remain open to the possibility that something is balanced and reasonably achievable.”

Jim Pasco, executive director of the FOP, has unequivocally denied that the organization has weakened its standards for the protection of officers, saying the group will not support the legislation.

“We will not sell our members for any reason,” he said in an interview.

In a beating from the National Sheriffs’ Association, Mr. Pasco added that the group “is often upset, and sometimes it is difficult to determine the exact reason for it.”

The public spasm of dissatisfaction required the delicate balancing act to move forward. While the death of Mr. Floyd and the national protest movement that inspired it, drastically changed public opinion about race and policing last summer, also made Republicans lean strongly in political attacks that portrayed the Democrats as the enemies of law enforcement, and themselves as its protectors.

Democrats would very much like an agreement, but believe that a final product that does not make it easier to hold officers accountable for transgressions does not adequately respond to the racism perpetrated by U.S. police.

Thursday’s pessimism also broke the upbeat tone that has surrounded the talks for months. As lawmakers are willing to divulge only the finest details from their talks, media reports have regularly exaggerated the scope of their progress, adding another degree of difficulty in reaching an agreement. Mr. Scott, mr. Booker and Mrs. Bass may not have helped. In an effort to create a sense of momentum, they have repeatedly told reporters they expect a breakthrough within a few days, or a week, or immediately. Every deadline is over without an agreement.

“We are days, but it can be 30 days or 25 days – who knows?” Mr. Booker said Thursday when he was pressured by reporters to make conflicting judgments about when the group could come to a conclusion – if it could. “There is a lot of work to be done in a very short time.”

Mr Graham and other Republicans close to the talks maintained there was still cause for optimism. Mr. Booker, mr. Scott and others involved in the discussions will meet with key law enforcement groups next week.

“There will be several versions of it,” said Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma. “We’re still going to get it resolved. I’m not worried about that. ”

However, the current deadline, end of June, appears to be a fixed breaking point. If negotiators are unable to reach an agreement by then, they will probably not have enough time to widen the support among their parties and bring it to the floor for a long debate and vote before Congress leaves the city. for a six-week summer recess. Once the legislators are back, both parties agree that the spectrum of mid-term campaigns is likely to overwhelm any dual goodwill on such a politically hampered issue.

“There is momentum for an agreement,” said Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network. ‘I would even call it desperation for a deal. But there are significant challenges ahead. I just want to urge those who are working on this and really want an agreement and want to change laws and lives. Do not contribute to the obstacles. ”

Negotiations on the reform of policing only fell apart last summer after Republicans of the Senate refused to pass the expanded bill of the Democrats, which after Mr. Floyd was named, to record, which would restrict qualified immunity, make it easier to prosecute misconduct and direct mandates to police departments, including restrictions on lethal use of force. Democrats, in turn, blocked a Republican attempt to pass more modest legislation led by Mr. Scott, who encouraged departments to change their practices, and included fines for departments that do not restrict the use of chokes or the use of body cameras.

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