Bipartisan Police Reform Talks Collapse in US Senate

Bipartisan talks in the U.S. Senate to reform policing that began after a spate of police killings of unarmed Black citizens in 2020 have collapsed, dealing at least a temporary setback to President Joe Biden’s vow to address police brutality.


The negotiations started nine months ago following the high-profile police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and the deaths of other Blacks that drew less attention.  


Floyd was pinned under a white police officer’s knee for more than nine minutes in an incident captured on cellphone video by a bystander. His death in police custody   inspired global protests of institutional racism and police practices, particularly in the United States, where Blacks are disproportionately the victims of deadly encounters with police. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was convicted on murder and manslaughter charges.


Blacks in the U.S. were more than two-and-one-half times more likely to have been killed by police than whites during a five-year period ending in May 2020, according to a Yale University study.


Democratic Senator Cory Booker announced the collapse of the talks on Wednesday, citing a failure to garner Republican support for Democratic proposals to make officers personally responsible for abusive conduct, to raise professional standards and to gather national data on police agencies’ use of force.


“It was clear that we were not making the progress that we needed to make,” Booker said.


In a statement, Republican Senator Tim Scott said he was “deeply disappointed” that Democrats left agreements on the negotiating table banning chokeholds, limiting the transfer of military equipment to police agencies and increasing mental health resources.


“Crime will continue to increase while safety decreases, and more officers are going to walk away from the force because my negotiating partners walked away from the table,” Scott said in a statement. Both senators are African American.


Declaring Floyd’s murder “a stain on the soul of America,” Biden said in a statement that Republicans were to blame for the failed talks.

“Regrettably, Senate Republicans rejected enacting modest reforms, which even the previous president had supported, while refusing to take action on key issues that many in law enforcement were willing to address,” Biden said in a reference to his immediate predecessor, former President Donald Trump.


Biden also said he would continue to pursue police reform through Congress and through “potential further executive actions.” Biden noted his administration had previously announced new policies on chokeholds, no-knock warrants and police body cameras.


Earlier this year, Biden called on lawmakers to reach a bipartisan agreement by May 25, the anniversary of Floyd’s death. But Biden’s appeal and lobbying trips to Washington by victims’ families failed to provide enough momentum among lawmakers, leaving attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, who have represented victims’ families, feeling “extreme disappointment.”


“We cannot let this be a tragic, lost opportunity to regain trust between citizens and police,” the attorneys said.  


Crump and Romanucci said the Senate should vote anyway on the Democrats’ policing bill. They said Republicans would likely defeat the bill, but that would allow voters to “see who is looking out for their communities’ best interests.”


Some information in this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters.