Describing the legislation (pdf) as banning the use of chokeholds, limiting the transfer of military weaponry to police departments, and altering legal standards to make it easier to hold police officers accountable, Schumer said on the Senate floor in Washington that “the moment does not call for half measures.”
“Hundreds of thousands of American protesters are not asking us to chip away around the edges. They want bold reform and meaningful changes to a system that all too often delivers unequal justice for too many black Americans, and that has existed that way for too, too long,” Schumer said.
The Senate can’t consider legislation without the approval of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Republicans control the Senate with a 53–47 majority (which includes two independents who both caucus with the Democrats) after gaining two seats in the 2018 midterms.
While McConnell’s prerogative as majority leader is to decide which proposals come to the floor, he has for two weeks declined requests for the upper chamber to consider a police reform bill before July 4, Schumer said.
“I have heard the Republican leader speak to the frustrations that swept the nation. I trust he is aware of the many abuses that have been allowed to persist unchecked in our police departments. Where is leader McConnell on actually doing something about it?” Schumer asked.
McConnell, speaking after Schumer, repeated praise for peaceful demonstrators protesting racial injustice and the killings of black Americans while thanking law enforcement for helping quell days of looting and riots.
“Notwithstanding the far left calls to disband the police altogether, I believe most Americans are ready to consider how the memories of black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor can move us to combat residual racism,” McConnell said, referring to an unarmed black man who died while in policy custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day and an unarmed black woman who was killed by police officers at her home in Louisville in March.
McConnell then said governors have been inconsistent, allowing large protests but prohibiting other First Amendment rights such as attending church, before expressing support for the Great American Outdoors Act.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) addressed the police reform issue, joining in condemnation for calls to dismantle police departments but adding, “We absolutely need to look at policies at the state, local, and federal levels to ensure that we are holding police officers to the highest standards, and I hope we’ll be having serious bipartisan discussions on these issues in the coming weeks.”
Thune pointed to a bill introduced last week by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) that would require law enforcement agencies to report the use of lethal force and said that, as part of its crowded agenda, the Senate would discuss how to best respond at a federal level to Floyd’s death.
Democrats introduced the police reform legislation on June 8, headed by the Congressional Black Caucus.
The package includes a bill advanced by the House earlier this year that would make lynching a federal hate crime while adding several components, including removing barriers to prosecuting police misconduct by addressing the qualified immunity doctrine, and aiming at police brutality by requiring body and dashboard cameras, banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants for drug cases, and creating a national database disclosing the names of officers with patterns of abuse.
Masooma Haq contributed to this report.