If there was a sense of relief after a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of the murder of George Floyd, it was short-lived. Seems like every day in this country, there is another new — usually Black — person brutalized by police; another new video showing disturbing and dehumanizing actions by those who have sworn to protect and serve. The legitimacy of policing is being challenged in ways never seen before, and that underscores the urgency of reform. Not only will it better safeguard the public, but it also will help the majority of officers who do their jobs lawfully and conscientiously.
Much of the work to be done must be done at the local and state levels. But Congress needs to do its part: In his address Wednesday night, President Biden called on Congress to pass a police reform bill no later than May 25, which will mark the one year since the death of Floyd. The House for the second time passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, mostly along party lines, but it remains stalled in the Senate, where Republicans favor a competing plan by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) that is narrower in scope.
Negotiations are underway in hopes of reaching a bipartisan compromise, and there does seem to be agreement on some key issues, such as ramping up the use of body cameras, making lynching a federal crime, incentivizing state and local police departments to ban the use of chokeholds, and requiring states to report use of force to the Justice Department. The big sticking points center on provisions in the Democratic-backed bill that are aimed at holding police accountable for misconduct. Qualified immunity, which shields government officials from civil liability for damages, would be eliminated for police; federal standards would allow the use of force only when necessary, rather than when it was a reasonable response. The requirement for proving intent in criminal prosecutions would be amended so that “recklessness” by officers, rather than “willfulness,” would meet the test.
Democrats are right that, notwithstanding Mr. Chauvin’s conviction, it is often too difficult under the current system to hold police accountable for misconduct. That needs to change. We hope the two parties are able to reach a compromise that satisfies that important goal and allows meaningful legislation to soon reach Mr. Biden’s desk.