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'Nobody is going to defund the police': Top black congressman says Democrats want to 'deconstruct' US policing

'We can restructure the police forces — restructure, reimagine policing,' key Democratic Congressman Clyburn says

Griffin Connolly
Sunday 14 June 2020 16:16 BST
Trump says police chokeholds sound 'so innocent and so perfect'

The top black US congressman has signalled in clear terms he does not support calls to "defund the police," despite a wave of activism calling for such measures in the wake of the death of George Floyd and other black people during incidents involving police.

“Nobody is going to defund the police. We can restructure the police forces — restructure, reimagine policing. That is what we are going to do,” House Minority Whip James E Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said in an interview with CNN on Sunday.

“The fact of the matter is the police have a role to play. What we've got to do is make sure that their role is one that meets the times. One that responds to these communities that they operate in," Mr Clyburn said.

Mr Clyburn, a longtime ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is one of 213 co-sponsors for House Democrats' so-called Justice in Policing Act that, while enacting significant changes for US law enforcement, would not abolish police departments outright.

Such steps must be taken at the state and local level.

And while federal lawmakers have less of a hand in how to govern local policing, most Democrats in Washington, similar to Mr Clyburn, have said they do not support defunding police.

Congressional Democrats' bill would reform “qualified immunity" laws to make it easier to prosecute and sue police and other government agencies for misconduct, and also ban choke holds and no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level while incentivising local departments to adopt similar measures by withholding funding for those that don’t.

The Democrats' bill would also provide funding for training to reduce racial bias; create a national misconduct registry for officers to ensure officers with lengthy and questionable records cannot simply change departments to avoid accountability; and require state and local law enforcement agencies to report use-of-force incidents to the Justice Department.

The House is scheduled to return on Thursday, 25 June, for a vote on the bill.

It is not likely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate without major changes.

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is leading the Senate GOP's efforts to put together a policing reform package, has said reforming qualified immunity to make it easier to sue police officers would be a "poison pill" for his party.

"The president has sent a signal that qualified immunity is off the table. [Republicans] see that as a poison pill on our side," Mr Scott said in an interview with CBS News on Sunday.

Lawmakers from both parties have expressed optimism negotiators can reach a bipartisan compromise deal.

But Democrats have indicated they will not settle for changes around the edges. They want wholesale reform.

“The fact of the matter is, this is the structure that has been developed that we've got to deconstruct," Mr Clyburn said. "I wouldn't say defund — deconstruct our policing,” he said.

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