WASHINGTON – Sen. Tim Scott, who is leading GOP efforts in Congress on criminal justice legislation following nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death last month, is rejecting a Democratic proposal to end certain legal protections that make it hard for citizens to sue police officers for using excessive force.
In an interview with Fox News Saturday, the South Carolina Republican – and lone black GOP member in the Senate – said he won’t support an end to “qualified immunity,” a key demand from liberal activists which has become part of the sweeping Justice in Policing Act of 2020 Democrats unveiled Monday.
“That’s a non-starter from my perspective,” Scott said.
That follows earlier statements from Scott opposing provisions in the Democrats’ bill that would bar state and local law enforcement agencies from using certain police tactics such as chokeholds on suspects or “no-knock” warrants in drug cases.
Led by California Rep. Karen Bass who chairs the Black Congressional Caucus, Democrats are pushing for historic changes in how police officers are trained, equipped and disciplined following a string of brutal incidents involving unarmed black victims at the hands of law enforcement.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks to reporters as he arrives at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 31, 2020, in Washington.
“If the Justice in Policing Act had been the law of the land several years ago, Eric Garner and George Floyd would be alive because the bill bans chokeholds,” Bass said during the weekly Democratic address that aired on radio stations nationwide Saturday. “If the bill had been law last year, Breonna Taylor would not have been shot to death in her sleep because no-knock warrants for drug offenses would have been illegal.”
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Scott’s thumbs down on some of the Democrats’ top legislative proposals sets up a potential showdown on Capitol Hill next week when Republicans are expected to present their criminal justice bill at around the same time Democrats are set to pass their measure out of committee.
Aside from ending chokeholds, no-knock warrants and qualified immunity, the Democrats’ 134-page Justice in Policing Act would require dashboard and body cameras, increase police training to minimize racial profiling, create a national registry to track abusive cops, limit law enforcement agencies’ access to military equipment, and ban lynching.
A protester is hit with a baton by a police officer on May 29, 2020, in San Jose, California, during protests over the death of George Floyd.
After listening to protesters’ fervent calls for systemic change in the nation’s police forces, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not sound like she was willing to compromise on many aspects of the legislation.
“We will not rest until the changes are made,” she told reporters Thursday. “The rest of the country is ahead of us. In cities and states and towns, people are acting upon some of these provisions already. So, it is our responsibility now to make sure that it does become the law.”
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Attorney General William Barr said the Trump administration would oppose weakening the immunity standard.
“I don’t think you need to reduce immunity to go after the bad cops, because that would result certainly in police pulling back,” he told CBS’ Face the Nation earlier this month.
Despite the partisan split over how drastic those changes should be, areas of agreement already seem to be emerging.
Scott told reporters on Capitol Tuesday he supports some elements in the House bill, including the federal lynching ban, increased requirements for body cameras on officers, more anti-bias training, and greater federal oversight of local police departments. He said Saturday he also wants to beef up discipline for misconduct.
Complicating compromise are left-wing calls to de-fund police departments following the death of Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as he gasped for survival.
The Minneapolis City Council voted to dismantle its police force, while the mayor of Seattle has allowed a group of peaceful protesters to cordon off several city blocks into an autonomous zone that’s essentially free of police.
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The Democrats’ bill does not include any language to abolish law enforcement agencies or budgets. But President Donald Trump and many congressional Republicans have seized on that message to paint Democrats’ efforts as misguided and dangerous while they defend the vast majority of officers as upstanding and decent.
“They’re the officers who protect the Capitol, protect us every single day, they’re the officers who rushed into the (World Trade Center) twin towers on 9/11,” Rep. Jim Jordan said Wednesday during a Judiciary Committee hearing on policing that featured Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd. “They’re the officers in every one of our neighborhoods in every one of our communities. Every day, every night, every shift, they work to put their lives on the line to keep our community safe.”
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After speaking with key Democrats and the White House, Scott told Fox News Saturday he expects to reach a bipartisan compromise on criminal justice reform.
“Everyone seems to have a sincere desire to get to an outcome that speaks to the American people about our willingness to listen and then respond,” he said. “We are trying to eliminate a binary choice between law enforcement and communities of color. We can actually service both so we can make sure that we have character-driven officers in every single precinct in this country.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: George Floyd: Showdown expected on Capitol Hill over police changes