Democrats block Republicans' police reform Bill in US Senate

Police officers take positions on Black Lives Matter Plaza amid ongoing protests against racial inequality near the White House, June 24, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Senate Democrats blocked a closely-watched police reform Bill on Wednesday (June 24), arguing that the Republican measure introduced after George Floyd's killing by police does not go nearly far enough.

Supporters fell short of the 60 vote threshold, 55-45, with just three Democrats joining Republicans in voting to advance the legislation.

The impasse has left the opposing political parties feuding over forging new guidelines to address police brutality after weeks of coast-to-coast protests led to a national reckoning on racial injustice and police accountability.

Attention now turns to the House, where Democrats intend to pass their own, more sweeping police reform Bill on Thursday.

But the Senate deadlock serves to highlight how difficult it may be for a divided Congress to negotiate a compromise on such a piece of legislation in the months before a presidential election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his party's measure was a "first step" that would allow floor debate on police reforms, but that Democrats balked.

"The only way there is any downside for Democrats to come to the table is if they'd rather preserve this urgent subject as a live campaign issue than pass a bipartisan answer," he said.

The GOP proposal would discourage but not ban tactics like choke holds, a flashpoint issue given that Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on the handcuffed African-American man's neck for nearly nine minutes.

It would provide for more de-escalation training and send officers' use-of-force information into a national database aimed at weeding out bad cops.

But the Bill does not end or limit qualified immunity, the controversial doctrine that protects police from being sued for misconduct.

And instead of direct mandates, the Republican measure would incentivise change by denying federal grants to police departments that do not end the tactics of choke holds or no-knock warrants.

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"The Republican Bill does not even attempt ONE significant reform to bring more accountability to police officers who are guilty of misconduct," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer fumed.

The measure is so "irrevocably" flawed that "it can not serve as a useful starting point for meaningful reform," he added.

The House Bill would restrict qualified immunity and ban choke holds and no-knock warrants, which have been blamed in several cases of deadly force by police.

Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the chamber, authored the Justice Act, which has President Donald Trump's support.

Scott said about 70 per cent of its reform provisions align with the Democratic proposals. But he told Democrats they would "get zero" of what they wanted unless they came to the negotiating table.

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