“We screw it up and it’s terrible”: how the US is reforming the police

11 months ago

The standoff between Democrats and Republicans in Congress is hindering police reform in the United States, which is claimed by thousands of protesters across the country. The disagreement of the parties on key issues is exacerbated due to internal disputes, depriving legislators of the opportunity to find a compromise. Instead of creating a bipartisan initiative, they are trying to promote their own projects, thereby delaying the solution of the problem further and further. How party squabbles of American lawmakers frustrate crucial reform.

The House of Representatives of the United States Congress of the Whole approved the Democrats bill on police reform. The document was supported by 236 lawmakers, 181 opposed it. Voting showed an almost complete division along the party line: representatives of the Democratic Party spoke in favor, and Republicans opposed.

The bill was in fact a response by lawmakers to lengthy mass demonstrations in major US cities caused by the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of the police. In particular, the document prohibits law enforcement officers from using asphyxiation techniques – a man died from one of them. At the same time, the bill also provides for the creation of a database to track police misconduct and establishes a series of prohibitions on the issuance of warrants that allow them to break into the house of suspects without warning.

The final aspect of the document is the response to the death of Breonna Taylor, an emergency care specialist. A 26-year-old African-American woman was shot dead in her own house by policemen who believed that they were raiding a drug stadium.

In general, the bill is aimed at increasing the responsibility of police officers, including for committing acts of violence and arbitrariness against suspects in a particular crime.

After approval of the document in the House of Representatives, it is sent for consideration by the Senate. However, so far there are no particular prospects for the adoption of amendments. The reason for this is the party confrontation within the congress. If the document passed quietly in the House of Representatives, since the majority in it are occupied by Democrats, then in the Senate most of the legislators represent the Republican Party – opponents of the proposed changes.

The situation with protests in the United States from the very beginning has been the subject of controversy between political opponents on both sides of the barricades.

Republicans often adhere to the position of President Donald Trump, who is not too positive about any Democratic proposal.

For example, while the House of Representatives was preparing a bill with amendments, the head of the White House managed to sign a decree on police reform. Priority was given to the allocation of federal grants for the training of police officers in order to encourage the use by guards of the practice of peaceful resolution of conflicts. The reform also included the consideration of complaints of police use of force and the tightening of checks on people who want to work in law enforcement agencies.

According to Politico, the legislative work of Congress on the much-needed changes in law enforcement, especially with such an explicit request from the public, has actually stalled due to ongoing disputes.

Democrats and Republicans are wasting energy, thereby nullifying the legislative work on the document, notes columnist John Bresnakhan.

The Senate has still not decided on the start date of the discussion of the bill, paying more attention to internal squabbles with the Democrats.

At the same time, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress showed an example of well-coordinated work – lawmakers as soon as possible approved the allocation of trillions of dollars to support the economy during the epidemic. However, at that moment, there were also some mutual accusations and disputes: the Democrats condemned Trump for a slow reaction to the pandemic, and the Republicans strongly defended the president.

Nevertheless, at present, the opportunity for compromise is practically not visible. As Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry said, conversations between legislators have virtually faded away, making the adoption of a bipartisan law unrealistic.

The fact is that each party drafted its own bill and refuses to amend each other’s initiatives, depriving them of much needed discussion. In such circumstances, the Democrats document is unlikely to overcome the Senate barrier, and the initiative developed by the Republicans will not even go through the House of Representatives.

Moreover, in general, the documents of the parties have many similar points. In particular, Republicans and Democrats insist on more frequent use of body cameras by police, declare lynching a federal crime, expand police training and the amount of data that departments collect.

The main stumbling block between the parties is the topic of conditional immunity – a legal doctrine that complicates the filing of lawsuits against the police in cases where people believe that their civil rights have been violated. Democrats want to cancel conditional immunity, but Republican leaders oppose this. The White House even considers the initiative unacceptable.

In addition, in a democratic project there are no provisions on toughening sentences for police officers who have submitted a false report. Republicans consider this initiative to be quite important, therefore, they supplemented it with their own bill.

However, the efforts of both parties are again lost, because instead of developing a joint initiative taking into account the general requirements, they are working on their own bills – missing the point of finding a compromise solution.

There are enough reasons for such strong contradictions. From the point of view of the Democrats, Trump is to blame for everything, supposedly finally dividing the United States into two camps. However, a number of Western media points out that the problem in this case is the disagreement between the tops of the parties, which their ordinary members notice.

For example, Congressman Democrat Dean Phillips complained that the leaders of both sides are not seeking consensus, killing hope for a bipartisan solution. In his opinion, too often the congress is going in the opposite direction. A similar opinion is shared by Republican Senator Mike Brown. He is sure that “something is wrong with Congress” and the problem has been developing for a rather long period of time.

The impasse in the congress on police reform can only aggravate the situation in the United States, where the protests for the most part turned into peaceful channels, having lost their violent color. According to a June Associated Press-NORC survey, more than 90% of respondents consider police reform necessary, and only 5% of Americans are against changes.

The lack of concrete actions by lawmakers and the government to respond to such a request from society may lead to a new outbreak of unrest. This will be another major blow for a country that is trying to rebuild the economy and is fighting an outbreak of coronavirus incidence.

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