Congressional Democrats and Republicans who’ve been trying to strike a bipartisan deal on overhauling policing in the nation said Thursday they have agreed to the framework of an agreement.
But the prospects of reaching a consensus on changing policing practices in the wake of George Floyd’s death, including how much force officers around the country can use, remained in limbo.
The key players in the talks — Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California — cautioned in a joint statement, however, that they have not reached an agreement as senators left Washington for a two-week Independence Day holiday
“After months of working in good faith, we have reached an agreement on a framework addressing the major issues for bipartisan police reform. There is still more work to be done on the final bill, and nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,” the statement said. “Over the next few weeks, we look forward to continuing our work toward getting a finalized proposal across the finish line.”
They did not describe the framework they have agreed to.
Mr. Scott raised hopes of a deal on Thursday when he told reporters the sides had largely worked out their differences. “I don’t think there are outstanding issues that need to be worked out. We just need to agree on the actual language we’re using,” he’d said.
He was overly optimistic.
The negotiations in Congress that have dragged on more than a year since George Floyd’s murder set off racial justice protests and calls for changes in policing. Despite the lack of a deal, Sakira Cook, the senior director for justice reform at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, continued to press Congress to act.
“Justice for Black and Brown communities who have been traumatized by police violence for decades is long overdue,” she said “The responsibility now lies with Congress to take action.”
The chief sticking points remain over Democrats’ demands that police officers be held more accountable for their actions while on duty.
A legal standard, known as qualified immunity currently, shields police and other public officials from lawsuits for the actions in the line of duty. Mr. Scott has proposed as a compromise that the standard be eliminated but to protect officers. Police departments would be liable for paying any civil penalties.
Critics of eliminating or reducing qualified immunity argue that it will dissuade people from becoming or remaining police officers and act as a disincentive for police officers to enforce the law for fear of liability for their actions.
Ms. Bass has said Democrats still want individual officers to face consequences, not just the police departments, should they violate a person’s rights or use excessive force.
A draft proposal by Mr. Booker would have made it a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail to use excessive force. Officers who do not intervene to stop excessive force would also face the same jail time.
Mr. Booker’s proposal also would have barred federal funding from going to police departments that do not ban the use of chokeholds. Attorney General Merrick Garland would also be tasked with setting a national standard law enforcement agencies would have to meet to be accredited. The standards would set a national policy for the use and force and on handling traffic stops.
Coming up with a bipartisan proposal, though, would only be the beginning of a difficult path for the major changes civil rights groups are demanding. It would have to win the support of police reform groups like the American Civil Liberties Union as well as the police unions.
The lack of progress discouraged some groups who have been calling for there to be greater consequences for police officers and limits on the ability of officers to use force, including chokeholds.
“It makes you question how committed they are” to making changes, said Charles Wilson, chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers.