Senate Democrats have signaled they will block a Republican police reform bill that critics say offers a “woefully inadequate response” to racial disparities in American policing practices.
The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, and fellow Democratic senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, sent a letter to the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, on Tuesday urging him not to hold a key procedural vote this week on the Republican senator Tim Scott’s police reform bill.
“This is a serious challenge requiring serious solutions,” the three senators’ letter says. “Bringing the Justice Act to the floor of the Senate is a woefully inadequate response, and we urge you to bring meaningful legislation to the floor for a vote.
“This bill is not salvageable and we need bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point,” they added.
“We don’t need to study the problem of police misconduct and violence, we need to solve it,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
The Democratic opposition is being backed by the country’s leading civil rights organizations and the lawyer, Benjamin Crump, representing the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two African Americans whose deaths in police interactions have sparked worldwide protests over racial bias in policing.
“The Black community is tired of the lip service,” Crump said in a statement.
Republicans need seven of their Democratic colleagues to support opening debate on the Scott bill, so the Democrats have the ability to block the legislation if they are unified in opposition to it.
McConnell has called on Democrats to vote in favor of the motion to proceed and allow for disagreements on the bill to be worked out through debate and amendments. The vote on whether to advance the police reform bill is expected to take place tomorrow.
Democratic lawmakers have previously complained that Scott’s bill only incentivizes police departments to ban police chokeholds by threatening to hold up federal funds.
In contrast, a rival police reform bill put forward by House Democrats explicitly bans police chokeholds and no-knock warrants, like the one used when Taylor was killed. The House is expected to pass the Democratic police reform bill later this week, but won’t be taken up in the Senate as McConnell has already said he considers it dead on arrival.
“We’re ready to make a law, not just make a point,” McConnell said as he opened the Senate on Tuesday. He said Americans deserve better than a partisan stalemate.
“We’ll find out whether our Democratic colleagues share our ambition or whether they chose to duck the issue and leave the country in the lurch.”
But the partisan standoff means it is less and less likely that Congress will approve any police reform legislation before the November election, despite the ongoing widespread protests in response to police brutality.
During floor debate, Republicans insisted Democrats would have a chance to amend any bill if they allow the debate to begin. But Democrats countered there is no agreement their changes would be up for consideration.
“Now is the time for Congress to pass legislation that will bring real change,” Harris said.
Floyd’s 25 May death in Minneapolis, when a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, has sparked weeks of worldwide protests and stirred strong public sentiment for stopping excessive force by police, especially against African Americans.
Crump, the attorney for the families, said the GOP package is in direct contrast to the demands of the people, who have taken to the streets, to call for the reallocation of resources in order to improve social safety nets and public mental health programs.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report