Senate Republicans’ police reform bill would create a federal Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys to study racial disparities and practices in education and a range of other issues, including civil rights and health care.
The commission, which would be a division of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, was first proposed in a separate bill by Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fl. House Democrats, who have pitched their own policing bill, plan to consider Wilson’s bill separately. But Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., included it in a broader bill he announced Wednesday called the Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act of 2020, or the JUSTICE Act.
It’s a “false, binary choice” to suggest Americans have to choose between supporting law enforcement or supporting black Americans, Scott said.
“The answer to the question of what side you support is ‘I support America,’” he said. “And if you support America, you support restoring the confidence that communities of color have in institutions of authority. ... This legislation encompasses that spirit.”
Disparities in Education
The flurry of attention to police treatment of black Americans comes as protests continue around the country following the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd by a city police officer. In addition to law enforcement, those demonstrations have called attention to a range of racial equity issues, including education and the treatment of black students by school police.
Wilson’s bill cites racial disparities in high school dropout rates and academic assessments as a concern.
The 19-member commission would include an appointee “who is an expert in urban education” selected by the secretary of education, subject-area experts selected by other federal agencies, and members selected by congressional leaders from both parties.
“The Commission shall conduct a systematic study of the conditions affecting Black men and boys, including homicide rates, arrest and incarceration rates, poverty, violence, fatherhood, mentorship, drug abuse, death rates, disparate income and wealth levels, school performance in all grade levels including postsecondary education and college, and health issues,” the bill says.
If approved, the commission would “propose measures to alleviate and remedy” the underlying causes of those issues, including potential changes to federal law.
While black men are often the subject of violent police encounters documented in viral videos, advocates say lawmakers shouldn’t overlook the treatment of women like Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by Louisville police carrying out a no-knock warrant in her apartment March 13.
Similarly, while black boys often face the worst disparities in areas like school discipline, civil rights advocates have said efforts to promote equity should not overlook conditions for girls and other students of color.
In 2014, President Barack Obama faced some criticism that his My Brother’s Keeper initiative focused too heavily on boys. The White House later released a report highlighting its efforts for girls of color.
Neither the Republicans’ bill nor an executive order signed by President Donald Trump Tuesday would touch on the role and use of school police officers, which has been a concern for student activists for years. Calls to remove police from schools have received increased attention since Floyd’s death, after which the Minneapolis school board ended its longstanding contract with the city’s embattled police department.
In addition to the commission, Scott’s bill would provide federal funding to equip officers with body cameras, require increased reporting on use of force and officers’ disciplinary records, and direct the Justice Department to create guidelines for deescalating police encounters. It would also create a separate task force to review best practices for law enforcement, and make lynching a federal hate crime.
The Republican bill does not include a measure from the House Democrats’ bill that lowers the bar for lawsuits over alleged misconduct by law enforcement officers. Scott has called that a “poison pill” that imperils the chance of success for any police reform package.
The Democrats’ bill would also promote uniform national policing standards, including standards for school resource officers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will not consider the House bill. He plans to take up Scott’s bill by the end of next week.
Photo: Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and others announce a Republican police reform bill on Capitol Hill Wednesday. --AP Photo/Andrew Harnik