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Blamed For Police Reform Failure, Tim Scott Announces White House Bid Amid George Floyd Murder Anniversary

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Sen. Tim Scott Makes Announcement In North Charleston

A fan is placed on a seat before an event for Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) on May 22, 2023, in North Charleston, South Carolina. | Source: Allison Joyce / Getty

As the saying goes, timing is everything.

And in the vast scheme of things, the timing of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott officially announcing his presidential campaign on Monday may not have been the most optimal considering it came in the same week as the anniversary of George Floyd’s police murder in Minneapolis.

But more on that later.

In the meantime, Scott’s candidacy means he intends to square off against the likes of Donald Trump and presumably Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to compete for the Republican nomination for president next year in an effort to change what the South Carolina senator derides as “Joe Biden’s America.”

But, to be sure, it was under “Joe Biden’s America” that the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act — proposed sweeping legislation aimed at reforming the ways in which police departments enforce the nation’s laws — was produced. Again, to be sure, that is also the same proposed legislation for which Scott is widely blamed for allowing to fail in the Senate after it advanced in the House.

All of which makes it that much more curious why Scott — the only Republican senator who is Black — would announce his candidacy just three days before the nation commemorates the third anniversary of Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

Could he not have postponed the announcement for a week out of respect for Floyd’s family and the continued fight to get the police reform legislation passed? Or, perhaps more likely, it wasn’t even a date that was considered by Scott and his team. Either way, the timing may come across as tone-deaf, at best, an unfortunate trait that has dogged Scott for his entire Senate career.

Lawmakers Hold Meeting On Police Reform Bill On Capitol Hill

(L-R) Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speak to reporters as they exit the office of Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) following a meeting about police reform legislation on May 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C. | Source: Drew Angerer / Getty

Tim Scott and police reform

The last time the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act was up for a vote in the Senate, it failed to pass in September 2021. At the time, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker — who along with Scott and then-Rep. Karen Bass were part of a bipartisan Congressional coalition charged with reaching a deal to enact the police reforms as law — lamented that “there was still too wide a gulf with our negotiating partners.”

But Booker was being coy in his commentary.

Now-former NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s (LDF) President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill issued a statement specifically identifying Scott as the reason why the legislation failed in the Senate. In particular, the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act would have eliminated qualified immunity. But Scott was reportedly adamant about his support for the legal protections that shield police officers from civil liability when they’ve violated a citizen’s constitutional rights. Ifill said that support “doomed” the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act from passing.

“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,” Ifill said at the time.

‘Defund the police’

About a week later, two law enforcement groups took it one step further and suggested Scott lied that the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act included language encouraging defunding police departments. 

The readily accepted narrative around why police reform died in the Senate had been that Democrats eliminated the chance of any bipartisan support by including “defund the police” language in their proposed legislation. Scott, in particular, had been repeatedly blaming “defund” language on Democrats since he joined Bass and Booker in working to secure a bipartisan deal on police reform.

In a glaring example of that truth, Scott — speaking for Republicans — said that language was ultimately the cause of police reform failing to advance in Congress more than four months after a deadline marking the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death came and went.

“We said simply this: ‘I’m not going to participate in reducing funding for the police after we saw a major city after major city defund the police,’” Scott, doing the media rounds to defend the legislative inaction, said at the time.

He tweeted a similar sentiment that same morning to bring attention to his appearance on Fox News.

But Scott’s position that the Democrats’ embracing “defund the police” language was not only flawed, but it was also a flat-out lie, according to a joint statement from the National Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police, two of the nation’s largest police unions.

The groups rebuked Scott’s claim and said the truth was Democrats actually wanted to fund the police.

“Despite some media reports, at no point did any legislative draft propose ‘defunding the police,’” the statement, released Tuesday, said in part. “In fact, the legislation specifically provided additional funding to assist law enforcement agencies in training, agency accreditation, and data collection initiatives. It is our joint belief that the provisions under discussion would have strengthened the law enforcement profession and helped improve the state of community police engagement without compromising management and officers’ rights, authorities, and legal protections.”

Not to be deterred, Scott still went on the Sunday morning TV news shows and repeated the same claims that have ultimately revealed themselves to be bald-faced lies. He has stuck to the same disingenuous and false narrative ever since.

Will the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act Ever Pass?

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act ambitiously aims to end police brutality, hold police accountable, improve transparency in policing and create meaningful, structural change when it comes to how law enforcement does their jobs. If it ever gets signed into law, it would be the first-ever bold, comprehensive law enforcement accountability and transparency legislation. The multi-tiered legislation makes an effort to address issues highlighted by the ongoing spate of police killings of unarmed Black people. That includes putting pieces in place (or taking them away) in order to affect real structural change with meaningful reform to establish a better rapport between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Some of the notable portions of the bill include redefining malleable legal terms that impede the successful prosecution of killer cops as well as not offering any new federal funding for police departments.

Perhaps most significantly, the bill aims to hold police accountable by collecting data about officers accused of misconduct and worse behavior.  It would establish a national registry that would attempt to address loopholes that allow cops who have been fired from one department to be hired by another.

There are other pertinent provisions, including mandating the use of body cameras and dashboard cameras.

The bill also bans the police from using a chokehold as well as making lynching a federal crime.

It’s unclear if the legislation will be reintroduced.

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