Three years ago, George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin, setting off a wave of international protests demanding police reform. For a brief period of time, it seemed as though there might be bipartisan legislation to overhaul police practices and increase accountability. That moment came and went.
Despite pledges by President Joe Biden to push the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law, the legislation stalled in Congress.
Here’s how we got to this impasse and what could be done to move things forward:
Republican opposition to reform
Even as outrage over Floyd’s murder saw many Republican voices condemn the murder and express willingness to implement reforms, passing bipartisan legislation was always going to be an uphill battle. Republicans have long made “law and order” a key part of their platform, with heavy support for police and harsh tactics against crime, especially when it comes to policing minority communities. And police unions, which have been strongly against reforms, remain key Republican backers. After briefly paying lip service to the ideas of implementing commonsense police reforms, many Republicans quickly reverted to demonizing Black Lives Matter protestors and rallying against efforts to “defund the police.” And even with Democrats taking control of the White House and Congress in 2021, Republican opposition, and particularly the use of the filibuster, caused the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act to fail in the Senate. Although President Biden implemented some of the measures of this law through executive order and remains committed to reform, the bipartisan legislation has not come to pass.
Tim Scott went from dealmaker to deflector
Many Democrats played a role in crafting and supporting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who introduced the legislation while still a Senator in 2020. Unanimous Republican opposition ultimately killed the bill, with negotiations breaking down in September 2021. But between these moments, one man – Sen Tim. Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate – attempted to bridge the gap between the two parties. Scott was the main republican negotiator for police reform, working with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) to find compromise legislation that both parties could support. In the end, Scott was unable to convince the police unions to accept changes such as limiting qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that generally protects police officers and departments from being sued for wrongful use of force. Scott then attempted to cover up this failure by falsely accusing Democrats of attempting to “defund the police” through the legislation, criticizing policies that he himself had supported earlier that would tie federal funding to reforms. Even as Scott now runs for President of the United States, he continues to push the narrative that the reform failed because “Democrats wanna defund the police.” Meanwhile, Black Twitter remembers Scott as the reason “why we don’t have the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
Tim Scott is why we don’t have the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
Kamala Harris is part of the reason it exists.
Vote 🗳️ 2024.
— Terry Lee Watkins Jr. 王瑞民💜💙 (@TerryWatkinsJr1) May 22, 2023
Electing Democrats in 2024
Though the Democratic Party, including Biden himself, have very mixed records when it comes to criminal justice and policing policies, the political reality remains that the best way to get meaningful federal police reforms passed is for Democrats to keep the White House and gain seats in Congress in 2024. With Donald Trump facing growing legal trouble and other Republican candidates far behind, Biden winning reelection seems achievable, though far from certain. And while Democrats did better than expected in 2022, regaining the House and holding onto the Senate could be challenging. However, even a gain of a few seats for Democrats could end up greatly improving the changes of police reform. Democrats in the House passed the George Floyd Act when they controlled that chamber in 2020 and 20201, and they could retake control if they pick up a few seats. In the Senate, 50 votes plus Vice President Harris’ tie-breaker could, through a somewhat complicated process, eliminate or alter the filibuster to stop Republicans from blocking reform, and Democrats recently fell only two votes short.
The 2024 election is set to be a very important election that will be hard-fought by both parties. For those still holding out hope that meaningful police reform and accountability measures will be passed in the name of George Floyd, 2024 may be the last shot for this to happen.