- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 25, 2021

Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday increased pressure on the Senate to pass legislation that would overhaul policing policies in the wake of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction, saying the “American people, in a bipartisan way,” are demanding a shake-up.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Ms. Harris said the evenly divided chamber must pass a version of the House-passed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act she drafted with fellow Democrats last year.

“Nine minutes and 29 seconds. People are in pain over what we all saw in that video,” Ms. Harris said, referring to the length of time Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck in Minneapolis. “We have got to put an end to these moments where the public questions whether there’s going to be accountability, questions whether there’s going to be the kind of fairness that we should all expect and deserve in all of our lives and, in particular, as it relates to people of color — with a particular emphasis on Black and brown men in the criminal justice system, as it relates to policing.”

Hennepin County prosecutors never sought to prove that the former Minneapolis officer was racist or acted out of racial animus when he killed the 46-year-old Floyd, nor did they include racial bias as one of their aggravating factors for sentencing.

Yet the case has been linked to broader discussions about policing and race, particularly after the shooting death of Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, a Black 16-year-old who was killed by an officer as she attacked another girl with a knife on Tuesday.

Ms. Harris said she feels a “great sense of responsibility” in being a voice for people of color and others who, historically, have not been in the decision-making room in Washington. 

But ultimately, she said, “it is for the folks in the Senate to work together to resolve whatever may be differences of opinion about the details of the legislation. But I think there’s no question that the American people, in a bipartisan way, realize and want that there will be some reform of the system,” Ms. Harris said.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the Democratic-led House last month, was seen previously as dead on arrival in the 50-50 Senate. But Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, said last week the parties can reach agreement.

Looming as a deal-breaker is the eradication of qualified immunity for law enforcement, a change that has become a priority for the Black Lives Matter movement and other activist groups that say officers shouldn’t have sweeping protection from lawsuits. Mr. Scott said eliminating that protection is “off the table for me.”

Mr. Scott has floated an idea in which police departments, rather than individual officers, would be held liable for bad acts.

“It’s a pretty simple solution: don’t sue the police officer, sue the police department so the cop doesn’t have to worry about losing his house and his entire — you know, car and everything else that comes with being a police officer,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told “Fox News Sunday.” 

Rep. Val Demings, Florida Democrat, said she thinks there times when officers should be sued on a personal level, though expressed optimism overall.

“I am hopeful that the Senate will meet this moment. I think we’re closer than a lot of people realize,” Ms. Demings, a former police chief in Orlando, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

In addition to eliminating qualified immunity for officers, the House bill would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, end “racial and religious profiling” and establish a national database of police misconduct.

“You cannot have true justice when chokeholds and knees on the neck are still being considered legitimate in some places. You cannot have true justice when a young kid can get stopped for an expired tag and then end up getting shot,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Chauvin last week was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for Floyd’s death, fueling momentum on Capitol Hill among those pushing for policing overhauls.

Ms. Harris said the verdict is just a start of the process and that Americans want to see change.

“This verdict is but a piece of it. And it will not heal the pain that existed for generations, that has existed for generations among people who have experienced and firsthand witnessed what now a broader public is seeing because of smartphones and the ubiquity of our ability to videotape in real time what is happening in front of our faces,” Ms. Harris said.

Likewise, Ms. Klobuchar said “everything worked in this [Chauvin] trial because of the tremendous effort, but you cannot confuse accountability for true justice.”

“And that’s why we must pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to change this going forward,” she said. “And that’s on us.”

• Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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