After months of promising action on police reform, the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act failed to move past the Senate. Passed by the House last spring, the goal was to pass the act in time for the first anniversary of Floyd’s murder.
That deadline came and went with members of Congress assuring the public that the legislation would still be moving forward. But the bipartisan path forward is no more. Over a year after massive racial justice protests demanding action, Congress comes up short.
In a statement, Rep. Karen Bass said she and Sen. Cory Booker tried to engage all parties in good faith, but it still wasn’t good enough. “I now call on President Biden and the White House to use the full extent of their constitutionally-mandated power to bring about meaningful police reform,” Bass said.
“Our sense of urgency remains, but this issue requires a re-engagement of the legislative process,” Bass continued. “With our counterparts unwilling to come to a compromise, we have no other option than to explore further avenues to stop police brutality in this country. I will not ask our community to wait another 200 days.”
Booker said a bipartisan deal “remains out of reach,” noting efforts to bring national police unions to the table, such as the Fraternal Order of Police and International Association of Chiefs of Police.
“Unfortunately, even with this law enforcement support and further compromises we offered, there was still too wide a gulf with our negotiating partners, and we faced significant obstacles to securing a bipartisan deal,” Booker said.
Responding to the news, Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, tweeted that the failure to pass legislation was disappointing but not surprising. “An est. 26million people took to the streets in summer 2020 after George Floyd & Breonna Taylor were killed by cops, but Congress will do nothing,” Dianis tweeted. “There was a mandate to stop killing & profiling Black people. The bill wouldn’t have ended it anyway. Not surprising but disappointing.”
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill issued a statement contextualizing the process and observed barriers to action.
We want to be clear about what we observed in this process. Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) worked tirelessly, creatively, with determination and in good faith to enact meaningful legislation that would meet the moment. They engaged with Republican members of the House and of the Senate – offering key concessions and even engaging with law enforcement – in an effort to enact this legislation. It became clear through the process that their good faith efforts were not met in kind. The decision by negotiators like Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) that addressing the issue of qualified immunity – a key demand of those seeking to ensure a chance to obtain accountability for unconstitutional policing – was a “red line” he would not cross, doomed the effort to craft a bill that would be responsive to the demand and meet the moment. Dates set for completion of the negotiations were moved repeatedly. After a year of negotiations, this effort has now ended in failure.
Fortunately, despite the refusal of too many members of Congress to confront the truths of our current system of policing, a number of states and localities have recognized the urgency of this moment and have taken steps to address police violence and egregious misconduct through landmark accountability legislation, and bold, creative interventions to transform public safety, such as in Maryland, Colorado, and San Francisco. We will be leaning into those efforts at the state and local level, even as we renew our demand for federal legislation.
Some organizers say this is proof that tinkering around the edges with reforms is not good enough.
Earlier this week, the Movement for Black Lives re-upped The People’s Response Act, a comprehensive community-centered approach to safety introduced by Rep. Cori Bush. If there is going to be a fight over legislation, organizers believe the starting point should be the full range of approaches needed instead of starting from a place of compromise and still losing out.
Ben & Jerry’s is also partnering with the Movement for Black Lives as a part of a campaign to advance racial justice and raise awareness of invest/divest efforts. In addition to joining more than 70 organizations in supporting the proposed legislation, the ice cream giant released a new flavor called “Change is Brewing,” featuring coffee from a Black-owned distributor. Ben & Jerry’s has previously worked on racial justice issues supporting organizations such as the Advancement Project and the Close the Workhouse campaign in St. Louis.
“The bill represents our first opportunity to begin ensuring the BREATHE Act framework becomes a reality,” read a statement from the Movement for Black Lives. “We are clear that policy is one of many tools at our disposal. We can’t afford to leave any tools on the table. If we are serious about demanding a divestment from police departments for reallocation and re-investment in defense of Black life, we must engage in public policy.”