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Senate Republicans introduced their police reform bill Wednesday. Called the Justice Act, it includes grants for body cameras and incentives for police departments to ban chokeholds. It also increases disclosure requirements for no-knock warrants and the use of force. Yamiche Alcindor reports, and Sen. Tim Scott, who is leading the bill, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why it’s “an important step.”
The drive to reform policing is accelerating tonight in the United States Congress.
At the same time, officers involved in a deadly encounter in Atlanta are called to account.
White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor has our report, starting at the U.S. Capitol.
Two parties, two bills, and a national reckoning on policing and racism. Today, Senate Republicans introduced their police reform bill.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.:
Too often, we're having a discussion in this nation about, are you supporting the law enforcement community or are you supporting communities of color? This is a false, binary choice.
The Justice Act includes incentives for police departments to ban choke holds and grants for body cameras. It also increases disclosure requirements for no-knock warrants and the use of force.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina spearheaded the GOP legislation. Today, he said he understands firsthand the need for change.
Sen. Tim Scott:
I was stopped this year driving while black when I got a warning ticket for using — failing to use my turn signal earlier in my lane change.
And so this issue continues. And that's why it's so important for us to say that we hear you, we're listening to your concerns.
The White House said today it fully supports the Scott bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats should also back it. But Democrats have their own reform bill that they say more directly changes federal laws on police misconduct.
Today, the House Judiciary Committee held a markup of the Democratic proposal, which was unveiled last week. Democrats said their plan is the only one that rises to the moment, especially in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis after being pinned by the neck for nearly nine minutes.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas:
What the administration and the Senate are missing is the understanding of eight minutes and 46 seconds.
They're missing the deeply embedded pain that is evidenced by protesters, not only in the nation, but around the world. Clearly, reform-lite, Milquetoast is not going to answer the pain of eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Among the differences between the bills, the Democrats' plan outright bans police choke holds and no-knock warrants in drug cases, rather than disincentivizing and collecting data on them.
The Democratic bill also ends qualified immunity, a controversial legal doctrine that has shielded police and other officials from lawsuits over their conduct.
Still, there is some overlap. Both parties' bills would make lynching a federal crime. Despite the points of contention, some think that Washington's partisan lines might be blurring, at least a bit.
Today, Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun said his party needs to go further on qualified immunity. And California Democratic Representative Karen Bass, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, voiced hope.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.:
When I hear that many of our proposals have been incorporated in what I hear is coming out of the Senate, in a different way, not as strong, not as powerful, but it makes me feel like there is a pathway for us to do this.
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the district attorney announced, the policeman who killed Rayshard Brooks last week is being charged with murder and 10 other offenses.
Officer Garrett Rolfe shot Brooks in the back and then kicked him while on he was on the ground fighting for his life, the DA said. Rolfe has since been fired, and a second officer was put on desk duty.
That second officer is now charged with aggravated assault for standing on Brooks' shoulders after he was shot. He has told prosecutors he is willing to testify against Rolfe. The officers were trying to arrest Brooks for falling asleep at a drive-through and failing a sobriety test.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
We want to take a closer look at today's plan with the man behind the Republican push for change. He is Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. And he joins us from the Capitol.
Senator Scott, thank you so much for joining us.
I want to ask you first about some of the Democrats' reaction. They are saying, yes, this is a move in the right direction, but the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said today it's not — it doesn't rise to the moment. We heard House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say it's inadequate.
Do you think you will be able to get enough Democratic votes to get this to a debate and a vote on the Senate floor?
Well, if we do not, then they will have to explain to the families that I met with yesterday at the White House and the families that I met with yesterday in my office why we're not willing to take seriously some of the changes that are important to those families who have lost loved ones because of the police interaction.
This bill, modeled after much of the House bill, is an important step in the right direction. It also includes the focuses — the focus of the president and the priorities in the executive order.
So, we have a chance to do something meaningful for the American people, especially communities of color, who are losing confidence in the institutions of authority in this country.
Well, Senator, as you know, Democrats are calling for an outright ban on certain measures, like a choke hold or the so-called no-knock warrant.
In your proposal, you are saying these things should be tied to federal funding, that, if departments go ahead with them, they risk losing funding.
And yet you also said today that this is something that should be debated, the choke hold should be debated, for the American people to hear.
So, it sounds like you're open to a complete ban on a choke hold. Is that right?
Well, I would say — say it this way.
My legislation gets us to the position where, if you are in a law enforcement department that does not already have a ban on choke holds, you do not have access to the federal funding. The House bill does not have the ability to actually, in my opinion, ban choke holds.
What they do is, they defund states' revenue streams from the federal government. It's kind of the same thing, to be honest with you. The fact of the matter is that policing is a local government decision, not a federal decision.
So, I'd love to see how the Democrats thread that needle from federalism and the local departments' ability to make the decisions. We do that through the refusing to give them the grant dollars.
The White House, in their executive order, does the exact same thing through a certification process. So, all three levers of government have the same objective. I think we get there if we keep working together, looking for a solution.
So, I hear — I hear a little bit of give in your position.
But let me also ask you about this concept, legal concept, qualified immunity. This is — this protects police from lawsuits for actions taken in their official capacity. This is something Democrats say should be completely done away with.
I think there have been 1,400 professional athletes who signed a letter saying, do away with it. Even a Republican, Senator Mike Braun of Indiana, is saying, this is something that needs to be looked at.
Is this — are you willing to consider tweaking or doing away with qualified immunity?
It's a very important issue. It could be considered a poison pill for the vast majority of my conference.
What we already know is that our focus on collecting information to lead to the right outcomes is a part of the bill that both sides agree on. What we do know, as opposed to looking at this things that divide us, we better spend more time on the things that unite us, so we actually have an opportunity to have a conversation where the American people can decide whether the good-faith effort on the Republican side and the good-faith effort on the Democrat side leads in the direction of getting a bill done.
If we're only going to talk in this interview about the priorities of the Democrats, that seems to be inauthentic in dealing with the issues that are facing communities of color every single day.
The ability to de-escalate violence is a really important decision. And if we can train people on how to get there, that's a great outcome for families. It's a great outcome for communities of color. And it's a great outcome for restoring hope and confidence in institutions of authority.
I am welcome — I welcome all debate on the issues that should be a part of the conversation as it relates to police reform. I'm not going to negotiate with you or with them through this interview.
I welcome the opportunity for them to give us a chance to have that conversation on the floor of the Senate. If they are more interested in a political point, and not an actual law, then they will say no to the motion to proceed.
If they want to have a chance to actually have the debate, then we will have this debate sometime next week.
I appreciate what you're saying, Senator.
And all this is designed to better understand what your position is.
But when you say changing police attitudes, changing the kind of training police have, this is something that's been done around the country, and yet these incidents keep happening.
Well, what I can tell you is, in 2015, I was on the floor of the Senate asking my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in providing more resources for those departments, so they could have body cameras.
Had we had body cameras, I think we would see the statistics that we have seen reinforcing the importance of body cameras. We see a 90 percent drop in complaints, a 60 percent drop in the use of force. So, the fact of the matter is, without a body camera or without a video, the Ahmaud Arbery situation would have never been known.
Without a video, the Walter Scott situation would never have been known. And without a video, the George Floyd eight-and-a-half minutes would never have been seen.
So, there are lots of opportunities for my friends on the other side to come to the table five years later.
And in that connection, Senator, I heard one of the reporters at today's news conference when you were introducing your legislation and explaining it ask you whether you believe there's systemic racism among the police in this country.
And I think I wrote this down correctly. You said, "Some people are racist, but we are not a racist country."
And yet, I would ask you, for those who have been protesting in the streets and calling out the names of George Floyd, and Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray, the Charleston church shooting, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks — and I could go on, Senator — they're asking — there's a lot of racism in this country.
So, what would you say to them about how to understand that and how to understand if that's a problem among the police?
I would say to all of my friends and neighbors in the communities of color, as an African-American elected official who's been stopped seven times in a single year, as an African-American United States senator who's been stopped coming into the U.S. Senate with my lapel pin on, as someone who was just driving while black earlier this year and was pulled over by the police officers, stopped last, November, for having my flashers on, I understand the pain and the frustration that comes with that.
I also, as an African-American, understand that when my house was broken in, law enforcement showed up to help me out. I understand that, when I was in a major car accident, that the law enforcement folks who showed up at the scene to help pick me off of the interstate were there to help me.
I understand that we have a delicate and weak relationship between the communities of color and the law enforcement community. I would say to them, as I say to myself every single day, as someone who has to be comfortable in this skin — and I certainly am — that we are making progress.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, in charge of this legislation introduced today to reform police.
Thank you very much, Senator. We appreciate it.
Yes, ma'am. Thank you very much. Have a good day.
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