Our Constitution recognizes that every American should receive the equal protection of our laws.
Police officers play a critical role in protecting our physical security and securing our civil rights. West Virginians know that the overwhelming majority of people in law enforcement – our city police officers, county sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, personnel at the Clarksburg FBI Center, and many others – take seriously their responsibility to serve and protect everyone in our community.
That is why proposals to defund or eliminate law enforcement are so misguided.
Instead of promoting equal protection, defunding the police would leave Americans equally unprotected as government failed to provide necessary security.
The tragic murder of George Floyd, among other incidents, demonstrates that we need to improve law enforcement, not eliminate it.
This moment should spur all of us to action to make sure that all Americans, regardless of race, can know that law enforcement is there to protect them and their families.
Any time that a law enforcement officer uses force inappropriately, trust in our justice system is eroded.
Too often in our history, black Americans have been denied basic rights.
Peaceful protestors in cities across our country, including in North Central West Virginia, have called on us to live up to the ideal of racial equality.
Ultimately, it is Congress’s job to listen to voices across our country and heed calls for justice.
That is why I was proud to work with Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to draft and introduce theJUSTICE Act.
Rather than defunding law enforcement, theJUSTICE Act provides funding to make policing better and helps ensure equal protection for all.
The JUSTICE Act would make sure that body cameras are available for more police officers – protecting both civilians and officers – during tense situations. It doesn’t just provide the cameras, it would also make sure that they are turned on and utilized.
The bill would require that law enforcement agencies retain officer disciplinary records for 30 years and makes sure that they check an officer’s record from other agencies before making a hiring decision. This will help address the problem of bad officers moving from one law enforcement agency to another to stay a step ahead of disciplinary action.
The JUSTICE Act would require the Attorney General to implement a ban on chokeholds by federal law enforcement officers except in situations where the officer is at risk of death or serious bodily injury. State and local governments would have to enact a similar policy or lose federal funding.
The bill would provide de-escalation training to help officers avoid the use of force when possible, and it would provide additional training on an officer’s duty to intervene when the force used by a colleague is inappropriate.
Those provisions are non-controversial.
Most Americans agree with them.
Similar provisions were included in a bill introduced by Senate Democrats.
There was common ground that should have allowed a significant police reform bill to become law.
Instead, Senate Democrats voted this week to block the JUSTICE Act from coming to the Senate floor for amendments and debate.
Had 60 Senators voted to begin debate, the Senate could have considered amendments and built bipartisan legislation from theJUSTICE Act’s framework that could pass the Senate, the House, and be signed into law by President Trump.
In fact, Senate Republicans offered Democrats the opportunity to propose dozens of amendments to modify or add provisions to the JUSTICE Act.
Rather than beginning a bipartisan process, Senate Democrats slammed the door shut on police reform.
Only two Senate Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin, voted with Republicans to allow the JUSTICE Act to come before the Senate.
This is despite the fact that the non-partisan Congressional Research Service noted significant overlap between the JUSTICE Actand alternative legislation introduced by Democrats.
To be clear, there are some significant differences between the JUSTICE Act and the Democrat alternative as well. For example, the JUSTICE Act does not include Democrat proposal that would have eliminated qualified immunity for police officers. But, an amendment process on the Senate floor has a way of spurring compromise.
Instead, a major opportunity to improve policing was lost. So too was an opportunity to show the American people that the Senate can come together in a bipartisan way to solve a national problem.
There is absolutely no conflict between being pro-civil rights and being pro-law enforcement.
I believe that West Virginians want legislation that supports our police officers and protects the fundamental rights of all our citizens.
While I am disappointed that the JUSTICE Act did not advance this week, I will keep working to make sure that all Americans receive the equal protection of our laws.