Sole black Senate Republican's policing package 'in the works', Mitch McConnell says

Tim Scott, the Senate's only black Republican, is leading the legislative push

Griffin Connolly
Tuesday 09 June 2020 20:29 BST
Kayleigh McEnany brags about Donald Trump scoring just 8% of the black vote

Senate Republicans, led by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, are working on a policing reform bill as millions of Americans continue to mourn and protest the recent high-profile deaths of unarmed black people during confrontations with police.

Mr Scott is the only black Republican senator.

A GOP bill to address police brutality in the US is "in the works," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.

The Republican caucus spent most of its weekly lunch on Tuesday listening to Mr Scott walk them through the outline of his proposal, which would provide more federal funding for police departments to buy body cameras and mandate deescalation and racial bias training, among other provisions.

"I’ve asked... [Mr Scott] to lead a group that is working on a proposal to allow us to respond to the obvious racial discrimination that we have seen on full display on our television screens in the last two weeks and what is the appropriate response from the federal government," Mr McConnell said.

Mr McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, acknowledged on Tuesday that black people in America still face widespread institutional racism.

“None of us have had the experience of being an African American in this country and dealing with discrimination, which persists here some 50 years after the 1964 civil rights bill," Mr McConnell said.

“We're still wrestling with America's original sin. And we try to get better, but every now and then it's perfectly clear, we're a long way from the finish line.”

Meanwhile, multiple Trump administration officials have insisted that systemic racism no longer plagues American policing.

“I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist,” Attorney General William Barr said in an interview with the CBS on Sunday.

But he added: “I think we have to recognise that for most of our history, our institutions were explicitly racist.”

While Donald Trump has adopted a mostly militant tone regarding the protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd — and tweeted out a Russia-linked conspiracy theory about one protester on Tuesday — several Republicans in Congress have expressed a desire to make some federal changes in law enforcement in the US.

Mr Scott's proposal does not include measures barring police officers from using no-knock warrants and choke holds on suspects, but it does call for a national registry of officers who have been reported for misconduct.

The administration is also preparing to roll out its own its own set of legislative and executive policing reform proposals, NBC News has reported, though no timetable has been announced.

While the contours of Mr Scott's proposal are not as broad in scope as the bill unveiled by congressional Democrats on Monday, the fact Republicans are drawing up their own legislation indicates there may be some wiggle room for talks towards a possible compromise bill in the coming weeks.

Democrats' package indicates that – at least at the federal level – party leaders do not intend to completely dismantle police departments, but rather mandate new policies and training programmes to help mend relationships with the communities they’re supposed to protect and serve.

Unlike Mr Scott's initial proposal, the 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 Republican and Democratic proposals overlap on some key points.

Both would 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 not scheduled to return to Washington to vote on legislation until the week of 29 June.

But policing reform is expected to be a top priority, along with continued bipartisan negotiations on another round of coronavirus aid.

The House will work to pass legislation that "not only holds police accountable, and increases transparency, but assists police departments to change the culture," Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass said on Monday.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in