Democrats Play Politics on Police Reform

The on-camera death of George Floyd was a tragedy and exposed a deep failure in policing. Local and state government in Minnesota failed to implement best practices in hiring, training and discipline within the Minneapolis police force. As the weeks progressed, and additional black deaths were highlighted, the failure of Minnesota’s leaders has been repeated throughout New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles. Our nation has called out for a comprehensive solution.

The tragedy could have resulted in the most effective police reform in years, but this week Democrats in the U.S. Senate, directed by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, voted along party lines to block justice.

The Justice Act, a law-enforcement reform bill written by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and introduced by Senate Republicans, has much in common with the Justice in Policing Act, favored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Both bills seek to address the same problems, cover the same subjects, invoke the same federal powers, and attach conditions to disbursement of the same pool of federal funds—the COPS grant program.

In fact, the process began with Republicans and Democrats nearly on the same page. Both bills would do the following:

• Limit the use of chokeholds by federal, state and local law enforcement.

• Address the use of no-knock warrants.

• Increase the use of body cameras by law-enforcement officers.

• Enhance transparency of misconduct records.

• Incorporate nearly identical provisions from the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act that make lynching a federal hate crime.

• Train officers in areas such as use of force and racial bias.

• Collect oversight data.

• Promote hiring of officers who demographically represent the communities they serve.

This week’s vote was not even a vote against the bill. It was a vote against consideration of the bill. Under the parliamentary rules of the Senate, the motion to proceed would have simply opened up negotiations, debate and an amendment process that could have narrowed the remaining differences.

Last week Mr. Schumer claimed that the modest differences between the proposals made Mr. Scott’s version a “bad bill.” Yet Democrats have refused to say on the record what makes the Justice Act so unacceptable and how it should be changed. Democrats appear to be using the constitutionally questionable idea of eliminating qualified immunity as a shield to play partisan politics and prevent a bipartisan legislative victory.

Mr. Scott, during a floor speech on Wednesday, said he feared that his Democratic colleagues would prefer to “run on police reform rather than accomplish it.” It seems his fears were well founded.

Senate Democrats presumably reason that since Mr. Scott drafted a solution, Republicans will get some credit for addressing the policing problem, and this credit will hurt Democrats running for office in November. This fear is amplified by the fact that the overwhelming majority of the recent episodes of police brutality occurs in cities run by Democrats.

George Floyd cannot be brought back to his family, but his death can define and improve America. America can be more just today than it was yesterday. For that to happen, the obstructionist Democrats in the Senate must be held accountable now, not just in November.