If Congress is going to pass a law holding police to greater accountability, the Democrats and the Republicans are going to have to come to some agreements. However, at the moment the two parties are not working together on it, but rather, are off in their own separate corners. In the House, the Democrats are making ready to pass a bill called the Justice in Policing Act, written largely by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In the Senate, the Republicans are working on a bill of their own, largely spearheaded by the single African-American Republican Senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina.
The Democratic bill bans the choke hold nationwide, makes it easier to sue police officers, blocks the transfer of military weapons to local police departments, requires cops to wear body cameras, and creates a nationwide registry to track cops accused of misconduct. Presumably, the Republican bill will be generally less tough on police. What remains to be seen is whether Congress as a whole cares enough about passing something for both parties to compromise, or rather whether each party is determined to make a statement to the voters in November, pointing to the other party’s recalcitrance.
However, for the parties, there’s a larger issue than what kind of bill Congress will pass. The two parties are going to be competing in November for control of the White House, both chambers of Congress, and state legislatures and governorships around the country, and the police just became a central issue in those forthcoming campaigns. There is talk at the local level of cutting funding for police or even abolishing police forces completely. The mainstream of the Democratic Party, as represented by presidential candidate Joe Biden and the party leaders in Congress, certainly does not stand for the defunding of police. However, Republicans have already begun accusing Democrats of precisely that, and making themselves out to be the defenders of the police that the Democrats allegedly hate.
A big part of the problem is that a lot of people think only in binaries, that is, either-or propositions. In this instance, the binary is about being either pro- or anti-police. Now, for those who make a serious effort to think the matter through, it doesn’t make any sense to be either purely pro- or purely anti-police, because it’s true that we need police and that a lot of cops are brave public servants risking their lives to keep us safe, and it’s also true that there are cops out there who think they have the right to give the death penalty to anyone who gives them a hard time, as well as other cops who have a reflexive reaction of fear when they see a black face. Neither reality cancels out the other, but in the minds of many who think in binaries, it really is either one or the other.
The year that Trump was elected, there were some police brutality incidents fresh in people’s minds, but there were also some recent instances of lone madmen killing police officers to avenge those incidents. There was a big impasse in New York between Mayor Bill De Blasio and the police union, because when De Blasio spoke of racial profiling and the warnings that he had had to give to his black son about it, the police union accused him of having the blood of the murdered cops on his hands. This pro-Trump manifesto, which Trump supporters were passing around on the internet shortly after Trump was elected, makes clear that in the minds of a lot of Trump supporters, police are under attack by mainstream liberals. (Key line “You created ‘us’ when you began murdering innocent law enforcement officers.”) While there is much support for the protests of the killing of George Floyd, there may also be a pro-police backlash, especially if the calls to eliminate police altogether gain a lot of ground.
Biden is in the hot seat right now. He’s made clear he doesn’t favor defunding police, and that of course is getting him a lot of criticism from protesters and parts of the Black Lives Matter movement. But he’s also going to be accused by Trump of not being sufficiently pro-police. And I expect the police issue to be effecting campaigns at all levels, not just Trump versus Biden.
Of course, the election is some months away, and it’s anybody’s guess what further crises and upheavals we’ll be seeing between now and then.
Article in TheHill.com about the Democratic bill, June 8, 2020
Article in TheHill.com about Senate Republican moves toward a bill, June 9, 2020