Last week’s collapse of bipartisan negotiations on a bill that would have meant sweeping change in policing in America is disappointing but not very surprising, given the GOP’s consistent foot-dragging on the issue. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, the Democrats’ point person, says the quest for change will go on without Republicans. It must.
The horrific nine-minute cellphone video of George Floyd’s murder under a Minneapolis cop’s knee last year was as transformative as the news footage of police dogs attacking Black civil rights marchers in the South half a century ago. Now, as then, the imagery drove home to whites throughout middle America that police abuse of Blacks wasn’t being exaggerated — that it was systemic, racist violence.
Polls after Floyd’s death showed that roughly half of white Americans recognized that police are more likely to use force on Black citizens. That’s not as high a level of recognition as it should be (given that disproportionate police violence against Blacks is a fact, backed by hard data), but it’s still roughly twice the level of recognition that whites had just a few years earlier.
As in the 1960s, this fundamental evolution among the public provided an opportunity for federal law to evolve accordingly. Unfortunately, that’s where the correlation ends. Congress back then moved landmark civil rights legislation with bipartisan support. But that was when it had two fully functioning parties. Today, one of those parties is paralyzed by its own extremists to the point that any hint of bipartisan compromise is viewed as treason.
Those Republicans who are cognizant of how bad their failure here looks are already trying to rewrite the facts of the police reform negotiations, claiming it’s Democrats who are inflexible. In fact, it was Democrats who did most of the compromising.
For example, last year, then-President Donald Trump himself supported using federal funds to incentivize local police to train in de-escalation and ban chokeholds; to build a national database to alert departments about cops who’d been fired for misconduct; and to improve counseling and addiction services to work in conjunction with police. Democrats viewed these reforms as inadequate but were willing to talk about them. It was Republican negotiators who ultimately scuttled them, falsely invoking the inflammatory “defund the police” trope for any proposal that would fund services other than uniformed cops.
Holding bad cops accountable criminally and civilly, providing better training for the good ones, and, yes, funding support services in addition to (not instead of) cops on the streets are reforms that most Americans, if not most congressional Republicans, can get behind. If Democrats can’t get it passed alone, they should at least make Republicans cast “no” votes to remind America of which party is on the right side of history and which isn’t.
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