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Officials urge Congress to revisit police reform in wake of Tyre Nichols fatal beating

U.S. Capitol
Greg Nash
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., is seen from the East Front Plaza on Wednesday, January 25, 2023.

Officials on Sunday took to the political news shows to urge the revival of police reform legislation in the aftermath of video of Tyre Nichols’ fatal beating in Memphis being made public.

Nichols, a 29-year old Black man, was pulled over on Jan. 7 for alleged reckless driving. Video footage shows that officers violently pulled him out of his car, pushed him to the ground and fired a taser after him before he ran away. When officers caught up to Nichols, they beat him with a baton and kicked and punch him for about three minutes.

When more officers arrived on the scene, officials said, it took them another 20 minutes to get Nichols medical attention. He died in the hospital three days after the incident as a result of his injuries.

Nichols’ death spurred national calls for reform as protests erupted across the country from Memphis to New York City. Many lawmakers called for Congress to address police reform, with many saying it is time to revisit the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

The House passed the bill in June of 2020 in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police officers that year. The bill included bans on chokeholds and no-knock warrants for all federal law enforcement agencies, a national registry of police abuses and made the process easier for to sue and prosecute officers.

However, the bill was stalled in the Senate, with many Republicans saying that federal mandates were not the answer. They proposed a softer approach at the time, like giving incentives to state and local police departments to enact their own reforms.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Sunday that Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who led negotiations on the matter previously, should sit down again to revive the efforts.

“Senator Booker, chairman of the crime subcommittee, has been working on this for years,” Durbin told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s “This Week”. “I think he and Senator Scott should sit down again, quickly, to see if we can revive that effort. But that in and of itself is not enough.”

Booker said in September 2021 that talks with Scott were “out of reach” and that they faced “significant obstacles” to reach a bipartisan deal on police reform. At the time, Scott assigned the blame to Democrats, saying that they were not willing to compromise and were pushing to defund the police.

Booker said in a statement on Friday that he plans to continue legislative action on police reform, even if the process has proved “difficult” in the Senate.

Former Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) said on Sunday that when she voted for the police reform bill the first time in 2020, it was a “major step in the right direction.” She said that the government needs to give police the right tools to succeed, but also needs to create a system where officers can be held accountable.

“I sure believe it was a major step in the right direction,” she told Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

On Sunday, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) also requested a meeting with President Biden to discuss justice reform, including the conduct of law enforcement.  Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), chairman of the CBC, said in the statement that Congress should start negotiations now to address police violence.

In a statement on Friday, Biden again called on Congress to pass the police reform act and said that Nichols’ family deserves a “swift, full, and transparent investigation” into his death.

But reaching an agreement will prove difficult, former Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Kinzinger said Sunday that potential talks over policing reform legislation will likely fail. He said extreme partisanship in Congress will likely stall any efforts to reform policing on a federal level.

“On the right, it’s all the sudden like we have to back the blue and not talk about any reforms and sometimes on the left it ends up being basically, you saw it to the extreme, defund the police,” Kinzinger told Dana Bash.

Former New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who was governor at the time that Booker was the mayor of Newark, N.J., said on Sunday that eliminating qualified immunity, which limits legal steps that can be taken against officers, would be difficult for Republicans in Congress to get on board with, but praised Scott and Booker for working on the reform in the past.

“Look, I think it’s going to be hard to get past it. I — you know, but if there are two people who can do it in the Senate, I think having Tim Scott and Cory Booker be the two guys who try to do it, are the right choice, because Tim is a guy who I think has great powers of persuasion over a number of the folks in his caucus. And Cory has the experience, I know personally from being a big city mayor, where there was significant violence, he did some significant police reform himself when he was mayor of Newark,” Christie said.

“There’s a lot of good things in that bill that should become law. And so the question is how are they going to work it? he added.

Scott, one of a few Republicans to comment on the footage released Friday, called for “swift, decisive” action on Friday after video footage of Nichols was released. He said that “American cannot stand silent,” and that lawmakers at every level should see his death as a call to action.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Adam Kinzinger Chris Christie Chris Christie congress Congressional Black Caucus Cory Booker Cory Booker Dick Durbin Dick Durbin George Floyd George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Tim Scott Tyre Nichols Val Demings

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