March 1, 2021 20:07

Is ‘Defund’ Call Imperiling Federal Police Reforms?

During a House Democrats call about the November election results, New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell said he had been forced to “walk the plank” on the police immunity issue, angering police unions. Pascrell had voted for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was passed by the House in June and included a provision to limit the use of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields law enforcement from liability in civil cases where people allege violation of their constitutional rights. Pascrell’s comment was part of a wider discussion in which Democrats complained that bending to calls for police reform had hurt them, The Intercept reports. Some members blamed activists’ demand to “defund the police” for the disappointing election results.

One result of conflating “defund the police” with modest police reforms that have broad bipartisan support, like ending or limiting qualified immunity, is that those reforms are now in jeopardy. “Even without the defund debate, I know there are some moderate members who think that the George Floyd Act was a political liability and who may be loath to vote on it again next year if it’s DOA in the Senate,” said one Democratic aide. New Jersey’s largest police union, the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, withdrew its endorsement of Pascrell over his vote for the bill. “This childish ‘defund’ whining has killed robust reform,” said another Democratic congressional aide.  House Democrats, who will have a slimmer majority next session, plan to reintroduce the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would bar local police and federal officers from using qualified immunity as a defense. The bill would not defund the police, which Congress does not have the power to do. Moderate Democrats are still blaming the underlying goals of the Justice in Policing bill for putting them in difficult positions.

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