WASHINGTON - The U.S. can curb police killings on American streets with better law enforcement training and more accountability, the lead Senate Republican advocate for policing reforms said Sunday.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone black Republican in the U.S. Senate, told ABC’s “This Week” show, “I think we can prevent more of these deaths” and enhance “character-driven law enforcement” by approving legislation that cuts off or limits federal aid to city and state police agencies if they do not adopt better training and policies for their officers.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington are in the midst of a legislative debate over U.S. policing practices in the wake of controversial deaths of African American men while in police custody. Scott said the two political parties agree on 70% of what is needed.
“We all want to ban chokeholds; that we already know is unnecessary,” Scott said of a policing practice ended by many U.S. police agencies in which police restrain criminal suspects around the neck to subdue them as they are arrested. Both parties are calling for a national registry of police who have engaged in misconduct so they cannot easily move from one police agency to another.
But differences remain as the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives head to key votes this week and next. Democrats want to make it easier for people who believe their civil rights have been infringed on by police actions against them to sue police, removing their virtually unlimited protection against liability for their actions.
But President Donald Trump says he is opposed to changing the legal protection for police and Republican lawmakers have expressed reservations.
“Americans want law and order,” Trump has said on several occasions.
Scott said police must be more accountable for their actions and required to report on them to the U.S. Justice Department in order to get federal funding. He said only about 40% of local police actions are now reported to the federal government.
Scott said any legislation approved by Congress should be targeted “so we get the outcome we want,” compelling police agencies to adopt training and policies on police encounters with the public “we feel are best for the nation.”
He said there is “plenty of blame” among both Republican and Democratic lawmakers about racial sensitivities in the U.S.
“We need to be more sensitive in our racial comments,” Scott said. “We should be working toward a more harmonious union.”
The move toward adoption of national policing reforms comes in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American man, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was held down on a city street by a white police officer for nearly nine minutes as he pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck even as Floyd said he could not breathe. The officer was charged with second-degree murder.
Floyd’s death spawned weeks of coast-to-coast protests about police abuse of minorities, some of which turned into violent clashes between police and demonstrators although most were peaceful.