The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion So much for the reckoning on police misconduct

Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington on Dec. 12, 2020. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)
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The conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer for the murder of George Floyd fueled hopes that Congress would answer the call for fundamental reforms in policing. Across the nation, there were demands for change; lawmakers from both parties said they saw the need for urgency, and President Biden pressed Congress to have something on his desk to mark the first anniversary of Floyd’s May 25, 2020, murder. Now bipartisan talks have broken down with seemingly no chance for agreement. Anyone who looked to Congress to be responsible and do the right thing looks naive.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on Wednesday made official what had been sadly apparent for months — the bipartisan talks on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that got underway after the April conviction of Derek Chauvin were getting nowhere. Legislation passed in the House along largely partisan lines but stalled in the Senate. Negotiations have broken off, and there is little chance of meaningful action on the police reforms that are so needed. Among them: a ban on chokeholds, creation of a nationwide police misconduct registry to help hold problematic officers accountable, prohibitions against racial and religious profiling, and an end to qualified immunity for law enforcement — the legal protection for police officers that limits victims’ ability to sue for misconduct.

Predictably, both sides pointed the finger at the other. Democrats said they bargained in good faith and agreed to numerous concessions but that Republicans kept upping the ante with new demands. Republicans countered that Democrats were at fault, with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) accusing them of letting their “misguided idea of perfect be the enemy of good, impactful legislation.”

A pox on both parties. This is a case where Democrats might have made progress if they had been willing to settle for half a loaf. But it is also true that Republicans’ obstructionism is becoming the primary theme of this Congress, exemplified by their shocking refusal to raise the debt limit and prevent the United States from going over a financial cliff.

Mr. Biden said he will continue to press Congress to enact meaningful police reform while looking for potential executive actions. The Justice Department, in a welcome departure from the indifference of the Trump administration to address police excesses, has launched practice and policy investigations into several police departments where there have been problems. It is clear, though, that Congress’s failure to address this issue places more of a burden on state and local lawmakers to do the necessary work.