The House Judiciary Committee approved a police reform bill last Wednesday after a day filled with name-calling and anger among lawmakers on the panel as they debated questions about institutional racism and police brutality against black Americans.
It took almost 12 hours, with some brutally tense moments, but the committee approved the bill along party lines with all Republicans voting in opposition. The Democrats’ plan on police reform focuses on the banning of choke holds as well as no-knock warrants, which will limit officers’ immunity from prosecution and establish a national database that tracks of police misconduct.
Led by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass of California, the comprehensive reform bill was drafted by Senior Democrats in response to the nationwide rioting and violence over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin. The GOP-controlled Senate is countering with its own bill, but the proposal has already been widely deemed as “toothless” and “a sham” by Democrats who have not even seen it.
Democrats spent hours dismissing a number of Republican amendments, including a proposal that requires police interviews with suspects be recorded, a proposal Democrats said they were open to at later stages of the process. Instead, Democrats chose to claim that Republicans were making efforts to purposely turn the focus away from questions of race.
Things began to get heated as Representative Cedric Richmond (D-LA), a former chairman of the CBC, accused Republicans of racial bias, “unconscious” or otherwise, and said they were making “a mockery of the pain that exists in my community.”
Richmond’s comments, which included a reference to his son, prompted an exchange with Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who questioned how Richmond could be certain none of the Republicans on the panel had black children.
“I already know there are people on the other side who have black grandchildren,” Richmond replied. “It is not about the color of your kids. It is about black males, black people in the streets that are getting killed. And if one of them happens to be your kid, I’m concerned about him too. And clearly I’m more concerned about him than you are.”
Gaetz retorted angrily, telling Richmond that he crossed the line: “You’re claiming you’re more concerned for my family than I do? Who in the hell do you think you are?”
And with that, the tone was set for the day on Capitol Hill. Democrats want a speedy resolution, while Republicans, including leader Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, want a more deliberative approach. Rep. Jordan cited measures offered by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and an executive order signed by the president earlier this week as major steps in the right direction.
It is hopeful that both parties can come to a compromise, which they insist is possible, so that it will be brought to President Trump’s desk for approval in the next few weeks. With the disastrous unrest and continuing race riots that are now in their third week, both parties as well as the president are under pressure for a solution.