U.S. Senate talks on police reform collapse as Democrats, Republicans fail to reach deal

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Bipartisan congressional talks on overhauling policing practices have ended without a deal, top bargainers on both sides said, marking the collapse of an effort that began after the killing of unarmed black people by officers sparked protests across the US. .

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“It was clear we weren’t making the progress we needed to make,” Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., told reporters on Wednesday. He cited continued disagreement over Democrats’ efforts to make officers personally liable for abuse, raise professional standards, and collect national data on police agencies’ use of force.

Negotiations had been slow for months, and by the summer it had become clear that the prospect of a breakthrough was all but hopeless. Booker said he told South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the key Republican negotiator, on Wednesday about his decision.

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Frequent visits by relatives of victims to Washington helped keep pressure on the issue. But in the end, Booker said, “I couldn’t get to the point where I could meet with the families and tell them we were going to address the specific issues that were hurting your family member.”

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Scott said he was “deeply disappointed” that Democrats walked away from the agreement reached on a number of issues, including banning chokeholds, curbing the transfer of military equipment to police, and increasing funding for mental health programs. , which address the problems that often lead to encounters with the law. enforcement officer.

“As security eases, crime will continue to rise, and more officers are about to walk away from the force as my negotiating partners move away from the table,” Scott said in a statement.

Democrats rejected a deal “because they couldn’t give up on their push to disregard our law enforcement,” Scott said, using a catchphrase from progressives from which most Democrats in Congress distanced themselves. has done. “Once again, the Left has made its misguided idea of ​​the perfect the enemy of good, effective law.”

The failed congressional effort followed high-profile police killings of black people last year, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. The killings and protests in many cities that followed drew attention to abusive police behavior and disproportionately high numbers of black victims of deadly encounters with law enforcement.

In a written statement on Wednesday, President Joe Biden called Floyd’s killing “a stain on America’s soul,” adding that “we will be remembered for how we answered the call.”

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He said Senate Republicans “refused to implement minor reforms” endorsed by then-President Donald Trump and that some law enforcement organizations were open to it. He cited new Justice Department policies on chokeholds and other practices, and said his administration would seek ways in which executive orders he could issue, “to live up to the American ideal of equal justice under the law.”

Booker won from police organizations, citing support parts of the effort, and said that he was talking to the White House, other congressional Democrats and civil rights and other outside groups about still making some progress on the issue. . But he avoided specifics.

“I just want to make it clear that this is not the end,” he said.

Attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, representing the families of the shooting victims, expressed “extreme disappointment” at the outcome of the talks.

“We cannot let this be a sad, lost opportunity to gain trust between citizens and the police,” he said. He said the Senate should vote on the Democrats’ policing bill anyway — which Republicans would be certain to lose with a filibuster, or procedural delay, but would let voters “see who is seeking out the best interests of their communities.” “

The police killings and public reaction quickly attracted the attention of both political parties, and Congress began writing legislation that would limit and monitor the use of police force. But from the outset, some in each party expressed skepticism that their opponents would make some concessions in the hopes of perpetuating an issue—crime for Republicans, deterring police for Democrats—that they would use in election campaigns to appeal to voters. can to do.

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Political obstacles soon surfaced. Democrats blocked a Republican Senate bill last year, which they described as too weak, while a tough House-sanctioned bill this year was derailed in the Senate by the GOP.

Lobbying trips to Washington by the victims’ families and Biden’s calls this spring for a bipartisan deal by May 25, the anniversary of Floyd’s death, appear to be setting the pace for the effort. But May 25 came and went without any compromise.

Booker and Scott, of only three black senators, refrained from criticizing each other throughout the talks, and stuck to it on Wednesday. Both have said they are friends and have cited similar experiences of being challenged by authorities.

“We disagree on a lot of issues, and in this case, I’m disappointed that we have those disagreements,” Booker said. “But we both share the humiliation of being stopped by police officers.”

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