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Following Chauvin's conviction, can policing reform become law?

Those who see Chauvin's conviction as proof that "the system works," and reform efforts as unnecessary, are badly missing the point.


Late yesterday afternoon, following Derek Chauvin's conviction, President Joe Biden described the guilty verdicts as "a step forward," though he added that the United States still has work to do to address issues of systemic racism, including in law enforcement. The Democrat said convictions like these are "much too rare" and "not enough."

Looking ahead, the president added, "We can't leave this moment or look away, thinking our work is done."

Alas, there appears to be some disagreement on this point. Axios reported overnight:

An acquittal or mistrial involving the former police officer would have unleashed violence and days more of protests — and added bipartisan pressure to act on criminal and police reform. Senior Democratic and Republican aides — who would never let their bosses say so on the record — privately told Axios the convictions have lessened pressure for change.

In other words, there are some who watched yesterday's proceedings, saw a jury of Chauvin's peers find him guilty, and effectively concluded that "the system works." It's a perspective that questions the need for sweeping reforms, since the former officer in this case was charged, tried, and convicted of murder.

It's also a perspective that badly misses the point. Convictions like these are incredibly rare, while violent abuses against civilians, especially in communities of color, aren't rare enough.

Fortunately, there are other policymakers -- on Capitol Hill, as well as in the White House -- who seem to realize that one conviction does not exonerate a system that too often fails. Right around the time Axios published a report saying lawmakers are now feeling less urgency, Politico published a different report pointing in the opposite direction, noting that senators are facing "more pressure than ever ... to finally enact nationwide police reform."

[Republicans] and Democrats conceded one point on Tuesday night: The long-running gridlock on police reform has become untenable for both parties. "It's pretty awful to have the nation's eyes on a courtroom. It's up to us to try to stop this from happening as frequently as it does," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

The article quoted Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) adding, "The judicial system worked. But a man is dead. So that's a very high price to pay. And avoiding more circumstances like this, more events like this, is still a huge priority."

As Rachel noted on last night's show, there is a legislative vehicle readily available for reform-minded senators. In early March, House Democrats approved the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which covers quite a bit of policy ground: the measure would, among other things, ban neck restraints, prohibit "no knock" warrants in drug cases at the federal level, reform qualified immunity, end discriminatory profiling at every level of U.S. law enforcement, mandate dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal law enforcement, and establish a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent "problematic" officers from moving between precincts and jurisdictions.

It passed the House on a 220-to-212 vote, which fell largely along party lines. (Texas Republican Lance Gooden unexpectedly voted with Democrats, though he later explained that he'd supported the bill accidentally and didn't realize it until it was too late.)

The Biden administration endorsed the legislation, and Senate Democratic leaders vowed to move forward on the bill.

But because of the chamber's dysfunctional nature, almost immediately after the House passed the reform package, proponents faced a daunting question: are there 10 Senate Republicans prepared to vote for a bill like this one, overcoming a GOP filibuster? If not, its failure is inevitable.

For context, it's worth noting that Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), did propose a reform bill last summer, in an apparent attempt to persuade voters that the GOP took the issue seriously in an election year. The bill was clearly flawed, as was the process: Republicans didn't want to bother with hearings or buy-in from experts, advocates, or stakeholders.

The bill predictably died soon after, at which point GOP senators quickly moved on in ways suggesting they didn't really take the issue too seriously.

But the debate has reached a different point now, and the need for reforms and national standards is even more obvious. What's more, last year, there was a Republican majority in the Senate, which wasn't fully committed to meaningful action on the issue, and this year, there's a Democratic Senate majority that wants to get something done.

Watch this space.

Update: Politico had a follow-up report, noting that Tim Scott suggested to reporters this morning that there may be room for a compromise, if Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are "willing to settle for a proposal that allows victims’ families to sue the police departments generally, rather than the officers themselves."