The rhetoric following the stunning failure of any legislative achievements on the police reform front has focused on placing the blame squarely on Democrats, but recent reports suggest those efforts have been misguided, if not flat-out disingenuous and incorrect.
The readily accepted narrative around why police reform died in the Senate has been that Democrats eliminated the chance of any bipartisan support by including “defund the police” language in their proposed legislation, the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has been repeatedly blaming “defund” language on Democrats since he — the only Republican senator who is Black — joined Democrats Rep. Karen Bass and Sen. Cory Booker working to secure a purported bipartisan deal on police reform.
Speaking for Republicans, Scott said that language was ultimately the cause of police reform failing to advance in Congress more than four months after a deadline came and went.
“We said simply this: ‘I’m not going to participate in reducing funding for the police after we saw a major city after major city defund the police,’” Scott, doing the media rounds to defend the legislative inaction, told CBS News Friday morning.
He tweeted a similar sentiment that same morning to bring attention to his appearance on Fox News.
But Scott’s position that the Democrats’ embracing “defund the police” language is not only flawed, but it’s also a flat-out lie, according to a joint statement from the National Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police, two of the nation’s largest police unions.
The groups rebuked Scott’s claim and said the truth was Democrats actually wanted to fund the police.
“Despite some media reports, at no point did any legislative draft propose ‘defunding the police,’” the statement, released Tuesday, said in part. “In fact, the legislation specifically provided additional funding to assist law enforcement agencies in training, agency accreditation, and data collection initiatives. It is our joint belief that the provisions under discussion would have strengthened the law enforcement profession and helped improve the state of community police engagement without compromising management and officers’ rights, authorities, and legal protections.”
Still, Scott went on the Sunday morning TV talk shows and repeated the same claims that are increasingly revealing themselves to be bald-faced lies.
According to a transcript from his appearance on CBS “Face The Nation,” Scott bastardized the true meaning of “defund the police” and conflated it with actually funding the police. He did this at least three times during his interview by conflating conditional grants to police that increase departmental funding based on compliance with policies such as intervening with rogue officers with efforts to “defund the police.”
Booker called Scott’s revisionist history “unfortunate” but didn’t offer a forceful rebuke, even after Scott doubled-down on his “defund” argument and suggested Booker couldn’t read the legislation that he himself helped draft.
“I’m only saying that if you read the legislation, it’s pretty simple,” Scott said of Booker last week. “This is not something that I’m making up, and we can debate our facts. We can actually say, in several different areas of the bill, it reduces funding.”
After it was announced last week that police reform efforts had officially failed in the current legislative calendar, Booker said a bipartisan deal “remains out of reach,” pointing to Republicans ignoring law enforcement groups’ claims that Democrats were not trying to “defund the police.”
President Joe Biden gave Congress a deadline of May 25 — the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder — to reach a deal on police reform. But weeks ahead of that anniversary, Scott blamed the bill’s inclusion of ending qualified immunity for officers as a reason why he couldn’t lend his support. Scott wants to see police departments take more responsibility without holding individual officers accountable, as eliminating qualified immunity would make it easier to sue individual officers.
The House passed the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act back in March, advancing it to the Senate, where it ultimately died.
If it had passed in the Senate and been enacted, the law would have been the first-ever bold, comprehensive law enforcement accountability and transparency legislation. Some of the notable portions of the bill included redefining malleable legal terms that impede the successful prosecution of killer cops as well as not offering any new federal funding for police departments.
Perhaps most significantly, the bill aims to hold police accountable by collecting data about officers accused of misconduct and worse behavior. It would establish a national registry that would attempt to address loopholes that allow cops who have been fired from one department to be hired by another.
There are other pertinent provisions the Justice in Policing Act covers, as well, including mandating the use of body cameras and dashboard cameras.
But now lawmakers are back to square one, in part, it appears, because Scott deliberately lied about the legislation’s contents in an effort to make sure there wasn’t enough support among his fellow Senate Republicans to pass the bill.
This is America.