U.S. House to vote on Democratic police reform bill as impasse deepens

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Thursday on sweeping Democratic police reform legislation that is opposed by President Donald Trump and Republicans, in the latest sign that congressional efforts to rein in police misconduct have hit an impasse.

The Democratic-controlled House is due to consider the legislation a month to the day after George Floyd’s May 25 death in police custody set off worldwide protests against police brutality. A vote is expected around 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT).

The bill, which mandates concrete changes in laws and policy to rein in police misconduct, is widely expected to pass the House. But the Republican-led Senate is unlikely to agree to the measure as written, after Senate Democrats blocked a Republican reform bill on Wednesday.

Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked over how to address racial inequities in American policing despite strong public sentiment for effective reform after Floyd died in Minneapolis after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Democrats, aiming to seize the mantle of public opinion surrounding Floyd, have named their legislation “The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”

“When we pass this bill, the Senate will have a choice: to honor George Floyd’s life, or to do nothing,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Floyd was among a growing number of unarmed African Americans to die in police custody. But the data is incomplete.

Seven unarmed Black people have been shot and killed by police so far in 2020, compared with 14 in 2019, according to a database maintained by the Washington Post. Those killings do not include people killed by other means, such as Floyd, and experts say there is a lack of police records on such incidents.

Democratic U.S. Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which represents more than 50 Black lawmakers in Congress, said the bill would help prevent killings by ushering in bold, transformative changes nearly half a century after Black legislators began pushing for police reforms in the early 1970s.

But Senator Tim Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican and author of the chamber’s failed police reform bill, accused Democrats of rejecting Republican input on the House bill to deny Trump and his Republican allies a victory on an issue vital to Black America ahead of the November election.

“This is pure race politics at its worst,” Scott said on Fox News, warning that congressional inaction will leave Black Americans vulnerable to further police violence. “There will be blood on the Democrats’ hands,” he said.

Democrats, meanwhile, denounced Scott’s bill as too ineffective to protect Black Americans because of its reliance on financial incentives and data collection.

“The Senate bill is sham, fake reform. It gestures. But it does nothing real,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

The Democratic and Republican bills address similar issues: chokeholds, no-knock warrants, police body cameras, use of deadly force, and training to de-escalate confrontations with suspects and to encourage officer intervention against illegal conduct as it occurs.

Republicans oppose the Democratic bill because of mandates they say could undermine law enforcement, including a provision to do away with legal protections for police and allow victims of misconduct to sue for damages in civil court.

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