Video of the beating of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police officers renewed calls for Congress to address law enforcement violence, but overhaul proposals from Democrats face familiar partisan hurdles this year.
The graphic footage released Friday showed officers in Memphis, Tenn., following a traffic stop, beating the 29-year-old man, who later died. A group of five officers, all Black, have been charged with second-degree murder in his death.
Nevada Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a statement Sunday urged lawmakers to “jump-start negotiations” and work to address police violence.
The CBC invited the Nichols family to attend the State of the Union address, Horsford said, and requested a meeting with President Joe Biden to advocate for negotiations on national changes to the justice system, including on the behavior of police.
“We are going to take action. And first, it’s about making sure that the president knows that this is an important enough issue for him to talk about at the State of the Union,” Horsford said in an interview Monday with MSNBC.
Horsford also said the CBC will be reaching out to Republican Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., to initiate negotiations. Scott was the lead negotiator for Senate Republicans last Congress in a search for possible pathway to a bipartisan bill on the issue, in the wake of nationwide protests in 2020 after a series of high-profile deadly encounters between officers and the public.
The Democrat-led House last Congress had passed a policing overhaul bill, with Republicans overwhelmingly voting against it. That bill stalled in the Senate after months of negotiations did not result in a version that could overcome Republican opposition.
Scott, in a statement on Friday, said the pain of the Nichols family cannot be in vain, but did not detail what actions he thought Congress could take.
“Let us listen to their plea to make our voices heard peacefully and in a productive way that forwards the cause of justice and a more just America,” Scott said. “Let it serve as a call to action for every lawmaker in our nation at every level. The only way to bring light from darkness is to be united.”
And on the Senate floor Monday, Scott said that Republicans and Democrats could build a coalition around common ground. That includes more police grants, more training on police de-escalation of dangerous situations, and more resources and training on a duty to intervene to stop another officer from using unlawful force.
“We should have simple legislation that we can agree upon, that has been agreed upon in the past,” Scott said. “But too often, too many are too concerned with who gets the credit.”
Any legislation would have to pass a House controlled by a Republican majority that has shown no major signs of prioritizing a policing overhaul this session.
House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio appeared to doubt the usefulness of legislation to address the officers’ actions in Nichols’ death, in an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I don’t know that there’s any law that can stop that evil that we saw,” Jordan said, and added that “there’s things we can do.”
When asked if he would support a federal ban on chokeholds, Jordan said he supports “the best training possible.”
“We’ll look at what we think makes sense to help this,” Jordan said, and added that “no amount of training’s going to change what we saw in that video.”
Biden has encouraged lawmakers to pass the legislation the House passed in the previous Congress, as has civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has been retained by the Nichols family.
Biden, in a statement Friday, said that when Senate Republicans blocked that bill, he signed an executive order “that mandated stricter use of force standards and accountability provisions for federal law enforcement, as well as measures to strengthen accountability at the state and local level.”
“We must do everything in our power to ensure our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all,” Biden said.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, who negotiated with Scott last Congress, said Friday that he will be “renewing” his efforts to advance changes.
“Although Senate action on policing reform has proven difficult, from the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to more targeted reforms, I will never stop working to build a broad coalition to enact the changes that will make our nation safer, stronger, and more just,” Booker said.