MURPHY: Dashed Hope for Law Enforcement Reform

America experienced a national tragedy last month when video footage of George Floyd’s horrific death was released. Even if the video hadn’t been released, the act of a rogue police officer murdering a citizen in and of itself is inexcusable and emphasizes the need for law enforcement reform. Our collective goal should be to enact policies that will prevent such a situation from ever happening again.

The actions of this one officer do not define the overwhelming majority of the hard-working men and women who wear the blue. They swear an oath to protect and serve their communities every day and night. The less than one percent of bad actors should not stain the reputation of the other 99-plus percent of law enforcement officers and first responders who risk their lives tirelessly and lawfully.

This tragedy gave our country a real chance to circle the wagons around justice and commit to reforming law enforcement practices. Unfortunately, Democrats have squandered this opportunity for the time being with kneejerk reactions that stem from emotion rather than reason and rational thought.

When House Democrats crafted police reform legislation behind closed doors, Republicans responded swiftly with a commonsense alternative, known as the JUSTICE Act, which was introduced in the Senate. I was proud to be an original cosponsor of this legislation when it was introduced in the House. After Senate Republicans offered Democrats at least twenty different opportunities to amend the bill, Democrats blocked it from even coming to the floor for debate. Meanwhile in the House Speaker Pelosi would not consider any Republican amendments, thus abandoning any bipartisan search for justice.

The JUSTICE Act has support from public officials, law enforcement, and those on the ground in our communities. It is a more prudent and measured response to current policing standards that this country needs. Legislation based purely on emotion is not a serious approach to problem solving.

Furthermore, what Democrats won’t admit is that the JUSTICE Act and Pelosi’s House bill are fairly similar. Both bills eliminate the practice of chokeholds. Both bills increase funding for body-worn cameras and de-escalation training. Both foster transparency in police hiring decisions in an effort to root out the types of cops that led to George Floyd’s horrific death. Both require police jurisdictions to report incidences where officers use force or discharge their weapons. While the House Democrats’ bill forbids no-knock warrants, the JUSTICE Act charters a study on this practice to allow for a more evidence-based analysis, since there is little data available about them.

While there is much agreement on several reforms, Republicans in both chambers of Congress have made it clear that the elimination of qualified immunity, which is included in the House Democrats’ bill, is a non-starter. Legislating in divided government requires negotiation. It’s a give and take process. Both sides have certain priorities that they are not willing to violate. If Democrats want to eliminate qualified immunity – which, for the record, I believe would be a grave error – then they will have to win the Senate and the White House. Obviously we differ on this issue. We have a difficult enough time already recruiting officers and eliminating qualified immunity would further decimate those efforts. That is just not the way municipal governments are run.

Rather than recognizing that there is a lot of common ground on which we can make real progress during this time of unanimous national outrage, Speaker Pelosi decided that she would rather stoke division instead of cultivating unity. Earlier this week, she made the unbelievably despicable comment that Republicans are “trying to get away with murder, actually, the murder of George Floyd.” She has been given multiple opportunities to clarify her comment, but she has refused every time. Her words are reprehensible and should be widely criticized by her Democratic colleagues and every rational citizen alike. Sadly, even during this moment of national unity, Speaker Pelosi cannot put down her harsh inflammatory and partisan rhetoric.

Make no mistake, Republicans want to get a deal done. It is in our nation’s best interest. It is Congress’s duty to capitalize on this moment of national unity to prudently deal with police brutality while the time is right. If we fail while all eyes of the world are on us, it will be a missed opportunity of epic proportion, and it will be because Democrats refused to come to the table and share a common sense, goal-oriented approach to solving this critical issue.

Congressman Greg Murphy. M.D. represents NC-3