WASHINGTON — Sen. Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican leading his party’s legislative charge to address police reform in the wake of nationwide protests over a string of killings of Black Americans by police, said Sunday that he hopes the “very important” conversation will not be derailed by politics.
Scott didn’t outline many specifics he believed could be included in a compromise plan in an interview with “Meet the Press” Sunday. Instead, he acknowledged the difficulties in setting a top-down approach and called for the government to collect more data on police use of force, as well as misconduct, to help guide a decision.
“Is there a path forward that we can take to look at the necessity of eliminating bad behavior within our law enforcement community? Is there a path forward? I think we’ll find that,” he said.
“There are approaches that are very similar and somewhat different at the same time,” Scott said. “If we’re that close on making progress, I hope we don’t let partisanship get in the way,” he added.
For weeks, Americans have taken to the streets to protest police brutality, spurred by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
And on Saturday, the chief of Atlanta’s police department resigned after one of her officers shot and killed a Black man during an incident in a fast-food restaurant parking lot.
“I certainly think the mayor decided to fire the officer, have the chief resign, in order to perhaps quell the response from the community,” Scott said about the incident.
“That video is disturbing to watch, but I’m not sure that it’s as clear as what we’ve seen around the country on some of the other issues that have driven us to the point where we’re actually having a serious conversation around police reform. The conversation is necessary, very important. That situation is an outlier from what really has brought us to where we are as relates to police reform and George Floyd.”
Those protesting have made a variety of calls for reforms, including setting restrictions on the situations where police could use deadly force, slashing (or in some cases, eliminating) police budgets, curbing the use of “no-knock warrants,” banning the use of chokeholds by officers and making it easier to sue officers accused of misconduct by addressing a legal standard called “qualified immunity.”
House Democrats released their own plan last week which would ban chokeholds, as well as no-knock warrants in drug cases. The legislation would also create a central data hub for on police use of force, make lynching a federal crime, provide racial-bias training to officers, create an officer-misconduct registry, and mandate the use of body cameras by federal officers, among other provisions.
Scott expressed doubts that the federal government could settle on a federal use-of-force standard, arguing that’s “difficult to establish” considering the “millions of scenarios that play out.”
Instead, he said that another goal could be “finding the best practices around use of force around the country and provide that clarity and guidance for those departments who may need to have a better perspective.”
“We’re focusing, at least I am, former police officers, current police officers and civilians to work on a commission to help us to discern what it looks like to have effective policies that lead to better outcomes in those intense, split-second decisions,” Scott said.
“That’s what we’re achieving through our commission that studies the use of force and the best practices around it.”
Scott called chokeholds a “policy whose time has come and gone,” and one that the House, the Senate and the president are all looking at ending through different measures. And he said that some registry around tracking misconduct would be “on the table,” either at the local or federal level.
But he expressed caution around banning no-knock warrants in drug cases because of a lack of data outlining how those warrants are served, while remaining open to the idea of banning no-knock warrants if the data pointed to that decision.
“We know nothing about no-knocks except for the Breonna Taylor situation that was tragic without question,” Scott said, referring to the Louisville woman killed in her own home by police serving a drug warrant
“I want to take the Breonna Taylor case and have an act that requires more data to be provided so we can actually come out with policies that are consistent with the best use of no-knocks, or the elimination of no-knocks. We just don’t have the information to get there.”
And he said that both sides remained in a stalemate over whether to roll back “qualified immunity,” a proposal “most Republicans don’t like at all.”
“I think we’re going to get to a bill that actually becomes law.”
One unknown in the debate is the role that President Donald Trump will play. He’s decried Democrats over their call to slash police budgets, and his campaign is running a television spot warning of “chaos” in the streets if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected.
He’s repeatedly defended police officers, promising to “take care of our police.” And he responded to a viral video of a Buffalo, New York, police officer pushing a 75-year-old man by floating an unfounded conspiracy theory that the man “could be an ANTIFA provocateur,” questioning whether it was a “set-up.” The man was hospitalized after falling to the ground and hitting his head.
On Thursday, the president said he was finalizing an executive order that would address the use of force by police officers, a measure that Scott said he expected to include “strengthening a national database on police misconduct” and talks about how police and mental-health professionals can respond to incidents together.
“He is engaging now in a way that is constructive and helpful,” Scott said.
“I think he’s weighing in at the right time in a constructive manner.”