Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the lead Senate Republican negotiator on police reform, on Monday signaled he’s willing to have another go at the tough issue in the wake of Tyre Nichols’s death at the hands of Memphis police, while criticizing Democrats for blocking his reform bill in 2020 for not going far enough.
Scott pushed back on Democratic colleagues, such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), for suggesting that Republicans were the reason Congress hasn’t yet passed a major police reform bill.
Scott criticized Durbin’s opposition to his Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act (JUSTICE) Act, which would have ended the use of police chokeholds and created a “duty” for officers to intervene when they see a colleague use excessive force against a suspect.
“Yesterday on ABC’s ‘This Week,’ Sen. Durbin asked Sen. Booker and I to come back to the table and start talking about policing in America. I never left the table,” Scott declared on the Senate floor.
“But it was Sen. Durbin who filibustered my JUSTICE Act. It was Sen. Durbin who called the effort to make de-escalation training more available a token piece of legislation,” Scott said.
Scott, the only Black Republican senator, appeared to hold lingering frustrations that Democrats blocked consideration of his bill in June of 2020, a month after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, sparking angry protests across the nation.
He emphasized that his bill included more resources for police training “because we want only the best wearing the badge in every location” and blamed the failure of his bill to advance on “politics.”
“Politics too often gets in the way of doing what every American knows is common sense,” he said. “Here we find ourselves again … having the same conversation with no action having happened so far.”
One of the biggest sticking points between the two parties on police reform is the issue of qualified immunity, which shields law enforcement from liability in most civil lawsuits. Democrats have insisted that qualified immunity get the ax in reform legislation, but Republicans have dug in to defend it.
Scott noted that he doesn’t often speak on the Senate floor but has stood up in the chamber 10 times over the past eight years to call for police reform and signaled he will not abandon the issue.
He suggested that other incidents of police brutality were foreseeable and could have been prevented if Democrats didn’t filibuster his legislation.
“When I said … that day, June 24 of 2020, that trouble is coming, I referred to the good book, the Bible, and reflected on Ezekiel 33:6 that says when you see trouble coming and you say nothing, you do nothing, the blood that comes is on your hands,” Scott declared Monday evening.
He said that lawmakers should be able to rally around a bill to provide more training to help police de-escalate dangerous situations and create a duty for officers to intervene with colleagues using excessive force, but questioned whether Democrats are really open to meeting Republicans in the middle.
“I know that when a conservative Republican starts talking about policing in America, some people seem to just turn the channel,” he said.
He voiced hope that when the media attention surrounding Nichols’s death fades and “the issue is no longer on the front pages” that senators will put aside their partisan labels and “do what needs to be done.”
“It’s what the people deserve,” he said.