A Republican-sponsored bill meant to rein in police misconduct in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis failed in the US Senate on June 24, leaving congressional efforts to address racial inequities in American policing at an impasse. Democrats, denouncing the measure as irrevocably flawed, defeated a Republican push to move to final debate by a vote of 55-45, short of the 60 votes needed, a month after Floyd’s death in police custody set off weeks of worldwide protests against police brutality. The legislative fight over reform now moves to the House of Representatives, which plans to vote on a more sweeping Democratic bill on June 25. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats said they believed the June 24 vote makes it more likely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s top Republican, will agree to negotiations on a stronger bipartisan measure. McConnell said he would schedule another vote if there was enough progress on closing Republican-Democratic differences. President Donald Trump said he would not accept Democratic reforms and suggested the issue could end in stalemate. “If nothing happens with it, it’s one of those things. We have different philosophies,” he told reporters.
George Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, stirred strong public sentiment for stopping excessive force by police, especially against African Americans. Civil rights leaders and activist groups, who called on the Senate to reject the Republican bill, have urged lawmakers to take up stronger measures. Senate Democrats sought to seize the mantle of what they regard as a new US Civil Rights Movement to address the lingering issues of systemic racism and police brutality in the US. “This movement will not be deterred. This movement will not accept anything less than real, real, substantial, substantive solutions,” said Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) who helped craft the Democratic legislation. “And so let the beginning be today, of a real conversation,” she added. But Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the chamber’s only African American Republican and author of the failed bill, cautioned that an impasse would leave African Americans vulnerable to police violence. “Do you know what’s going to happen? Something bad. And we’ll be right back here talking about what should have been done, what could have been done” to prevent it, Scott said.
The Republican and Democratic bills address similar issues such as chokeholds, no-knock warrants, police body cameras, use of deadly force, and training to de-escalate confrontations with suspects and to encourage officer intervention against illegal conduct as it occurs. Democrats opposed the Republican bill because it relies on incentives to effect reforms and seeks data collection on issues such as no-knock warrants, rather than mandating changes as the Democratic bill does. Republicans warn that the Democratic bill could undermine law enforcement, in part because it would remove qualified immunity protections for police and allow victims of misconduct to sue for damages. Regarding the issue of qualified immunity protections for police officers, a June 22-23 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that Americans favor removing the protections, 49% to 26%. Republicans were split on the issue, with 38% favoring removal and 37% opposing it.