Students stage a #KnowHerToo sit-in at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2020, to call attention to the police shooting of Breonna Taylor, a 27-year-old African-American woman who was killed in Louisville, Kentucky, March 13, 2020. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Rep. Tom Cole: Police reform must be bipartisan

Following the reprehensible treatment and tragic death of George Floyd, there has rightly been a national outcry against what took place both under the watch of and at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis – a clear and despicable violation of the solemn oath police officers take to serve and protect their fellow citizens. While the overwhelming majority of officers faithfully and bravely discharge their responsibilities each and every day, the death of George Floyd is a sobering reminder that abuses of power clearly exist and must be addressed.

Certainly, there is an important dialogue underway in communities nationwide and a shared desired for change. Over the last few weeks, I’ve spoken with many police chiefs across the Fourth District of Oklahoma, and they could not more strongly condemn what happened to George Floyd and others in similar scattered incidents.

Indeed, nobody resents a bad police officer more than a good police officer, and they too desire to see lasting change come from this serious national discussion. This historic moment in time should result in meaningful reforms that enhance the professionalism and transparency of community policing while increasing the confidence and security of every citizen, particularly those living in communities of color.

While both Republicans and Democrats agree that policing reforms are needed, I regret that such a consequential dialogue and monumental effort has been marked by partisanship thus far in Congress. Such partisan gridlock was clearly on display last month in both chambers. In the Senate, where it takes 60 votes to proceed on legislation, Democrats refused to provide the needed votes for consideration of the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act [S.3985], which was authored by Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Pete Stauber. This move came despite Senator Scott’s willingness to have a robust debate to work out any differences across party lines, including allowing consideration of any amendments Democrats wanted to offer and vote on.

Though the House passed a police reform package last month, Republicans were completely shut out of the process of crafting and providing any real input on the bill. Unfortunately, it should come as no surprise that the resulting bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act [H.R.7120], was purely partisan and one I could not support. It’s also worth noting that such a partisan bill could never pass the Republican-led Senate or get signed into law by President Trump.

Even in divided government, Americans deserve and expect their elected officials to work together to produce police reform legislation that upholds the constitutional rights and inherent dignity of every individual. While Republicans and Democrats have differences in opinions on some of the needed solutions, we ultimately share the same goal of making our communities safer for all, regardless of color or creed.

And we aren’t as far apart as it might seem. For example, there is clear consensus on many policing reforms – such as banning choke holds, directing lynching to be a federal crime and providing a federal registry so that police officers who have committed abuses cannot be rehired.

In the days ahead, I hope we can set aside our differences and work toward meaningful reforms that make our communities safer for all Americans. Refusing to engage in a bipartisan manner on such an issue of monumental reform is a disservice to Americans everywhere.

Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is serving his eighth term in Congress as the elected representative of Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District. He is recognized as an advocate for taxpayers and small business, a proponent for a strong national defense and a leader in promoting biomedical research. He is considered the foremost expert in the House on issues dealing with Native Americans and tribal governments. He and his wife, Ellen, have one son, Mason, and reside in Moore, Oklahoma.

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