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Victims' relatives hold Capitol Hill meetings to push police reform

Victims' relatives hold Capitol Hill meetings to push police reform
© Greg Nash

The brother of George Floyd, the mother of Eric Garner and the sister of Botham Jean met with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers at the Capitol on Thursday, seeking to pressure Congress to take action on police reform.

Philonise Floyd, Gwen Carr and Alissa Findley, whose relatives are among the most prominent victims of police killings, met with Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Upbeat jobs data, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions offer rosier US picture How to fast-track climate action? EPA cutting super pollutant HFCs MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeVictims' relatives hold Capitol Hill meetings to push police reform Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote House panel approves bill to set up commission on reparations MORE (D-Texas) before sitting down with South Carolina's two Republican senators, Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottUpdating the aging infrastructure in Historically Black Colleges and Universities McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' The instructive popularity of Biden's 'New Deal' for the middle class MORE and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLindsey Graham: GOP can't 'move forward without President Trump' House to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE

They also met separately with Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerBush testifies before Congress about racist treatment Black birthing people face during childbirth, pregnancy Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Never underestimate Joe Biden MORE (D-N.J.).

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The meetings revolved around the evenly split Senate finding a way to get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed and sent to President BidenJoe BidenDefense lawyers for alleged Capitol rioters to get tours of U.S. Capitol Sasse to introduce legislation giving new hires signing bonuses after negative jobs report Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE’s desk. It passed the House without any GOP support in March, but has yet to clear the Senate, where it will need bipartisan support to avoid a filibuster.

“This legislation has my brother's blood on it and all the other families' blood on it,” Philonise Floyd told reporters after the group’s meeting with Democrats. “We're here today because we need to let everybody know how we feel about our brothers and our families and family members who have been killed for anything that they shouldn't have been killed for.”

Also present were Tiffany Crutcher, whose twin Terrence Crutcher was shot and killed by Tulsa police in 2016, and national civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has represented numerous Black families who have lost a relative at the hands of law enforcement, including the Floyd family.

The family members, along with Crump, are some of the most vocal and visible advocates for sweeping police reform in the United States.

Their trip to the Capitol comes a day after Biden urged Congress to pass the legislation by the first anniversary of Floyd’s death, May 25, in his first address to the legislative body.

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The legislation would implement sweeping changes to federal policing standards: racial profiling at every level of law enforcement would be prohibited; chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants would be banned at the federal level; qualified immunity for officers would be overhauled; and a national police misconduct registry would be created.

Instead of mandating certain reforms such as the chokehold ban at a state and local level, it ties them to federal funding for police departments, forcing local law enforcement entities to adopt the new standards if they want to continue receiving federal aid.

As it stands, Republicans have balked at supporting the police reform proposal, but the issue isn’t inherently partisan.

Scott, the only Black GOP senator, introduced his own police reform bill in June after Floyd was killed, and has been in ongoing discussions with Booker and Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Police reform talks ramp up amid pressure from Biden, families Victims' relatives hold Capitol Hill meetings to push police reform MORE (D-Calif.) since the bill passed the House.

The main crux of GOP opposition to the legislation is legal protection for police officers, namely qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity is a doctrine that protects state and local government officials, including law enforcement, from liability in civil suits unless they violate a person’s clearly established constitutional right.

The legislation would slash qualified immunity and well as change the wording of a U.S. statute that also serves to protect officers from prosecution.

Section 242 of U.S.C. 18 prohibits “a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

The George Floyd bill would change “willfully” to “knowingly or recklessly,” and also broadens the scope of the statute.

Democrats see these reforms as essential provisions to hold law enforcement more accountable, but to Republicans they are close to non-starters. 

Scott’s fellow South Carolina senator, Graham, told reporters Thursday that he’d engaged in a “very pleasant” conversation with Crump over the issue of police accountability.

“We're trying to find sweet spots here,” Graham told reporters after the meeting. 

“Qualified immunity has gotten to be a legal Frankenstein. … We're trying to drive change, we’re trying to get police departments to up their game, but we all still need to have a legal system that [recognizes] being a police officer is a very complicated, difficult job,” he said.

It is expected that Scott, Graham, Booker, Bass and Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinAmerica's Jewish communities are under attack — Here are 3 things Congress can do Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel On The Money: Incomes, consumer spending soared in March | Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package | Biden cancels some border wall construction MORE (D-Ill.) will huddle Thursday afternoon in an effort to continue negotiations.

Scott Wong contributed.