Opinion

Tim Scott is lying about why police reform failed

Republicans abandoned the bipartisan talks, but the senator is trying to blame Democrats

While no single party is solely responsible for the failure of this Congress to pass a bill to overhaul policing in America, at least one senator should be called out for not telling the truth about his role in the legislation's collapse. 

For about six months, there were bipartisan negotiations over a bill to reform law enforcement policies and tactics. Those discussions were led by a group of congressional Democrats — notably New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Congresswoman Karen Bass — and their Republican counterparts, led by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. The lawmakers first began talks following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, 2020. The protests over the deaths of Floyd and others like Breonna Taylor sparked what was ultimately deemed the largest social justice movement in U.S. history

But those negotiations recently collapsed after Republicans refused to negotiate with Democrats, and ultimately rejected their already watered-down proposals. Instead of hanging his head in shame over his inability to do his job, Scott is doing damage control, misrepresenting the reasons behind the fallout and claiming Democrats were ones that "walked away" from the bipartisan talks. "Let's just be clear that we have stayed at the table," Scott told CBS News' Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation

Scott added that the GOP was "not going to participate in reducing funding for police after we saw a major city after major city defund the police," which he claimed would have been the case with many of the provisions proposed by Booker. "That's a lose-lose proposition," Scott said, while describing his approach, which resulted in nothing changing, as a "win-win."

"We want the best wearing the badge, and we want the vulnerable protected." 

Asked about Scott's comments on CNN's State of the Union, Booker explained the bill put forward by Democrats would have done the opposite of what Scott says. "This is a bill that would have had millions of dollars for police departments," he told host Jake Tapper. "Additional dollars, because we want to help officers with mental health issues. We want to collect more data, so we should give more resources."

Some on the right and across cable television like to portray the Democratic Party as the force behind "defunding the police," but while abolition is a real policy deserving of consideration, it is not one ever taken seriously by the party as a whole. See President Biden, who campaigned against defunding the police, and this failed bill, which, as Booker noted, would have given the police more money.

The ask in exchange was pretty easy: "We wanted to have more transparency, higher professional standards, and real accountability," Booker said. "If you break the law, you shouldn't be shielded from that. Those were the lines all along." In other words, police would no longer be able to just shoot Black people at will without repercussions. 

If you don't believe Booker, believe the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police as both are disputing Scott's account of how negotiations over the policing overhaul plan broke down: "Despite some media reports, at no point did any legislative draft propose 'defunding the police,'" a joint statement from the two groups said. "In fact, the legislation specifically provided additional funding to assist law enforcement agencies in training, agency accreditation, and data collection initiatives."

Now, I'm not exactly the type to trust the word of these kinds of groups, but they did go out of their way to not only dispute Scott publicly, but to note the bill would have "strengthened the law enforcement profession and helped improve the state of community police engagement without compromising management and officers' rights, authorities, and legal protections."

So not only did Scott trample on legislation that could have given Black people less reason to fear death when met by law enforcement for no other reason than existing, he lied about his reasons for doing so. Scott has also been called out for bashing some of the very police-reform policy positions he previously endorsed. That's why it was maddening to hear Scott, a Black man, lecture others about letting Black people down — on a Fox News show of all places.

Speaking with Sunday Night in America's Trey Gowdy, Scott said: "We've seen the right direction of solutions under the GOP while the Democrats keep campaigning on the issue never having to find a solution. This is what all Americans want, whether you're Black or white or red or blue. You want a fair justice system. And yet our Democrats and elites keep telling poor folks in marginalized communities you just wait. We'll get to you sometime, and we'll run on the issue, but the Republicans bring the solutions."

Yet here we are with no solutions to a problem that burdens all Black Americans.

I have never made the mistake of taking Scott seriously. I don't trust anyone Black that could commit themselves to the party of Ronald Reagan much less Donald Trump. But on this issue, one would have hoped that Scott, who has at least acknowledged that he has faced racism, might have made a sincere effort to be useful. Sadly, this is the Tim Scott I am used to — the one who argues America isn't a racist country but stood behind a racist president. 

Scott not only failed to make our streets safer for Black people, he couldn't even be bold enough to admit that in the end, he just didn't care enough to see this through. 

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