Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: Democrats pick politics over police reform

The following op-ed appeared in the July 24, 2020 edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

After the death of George Floyd, there was historic, national consensus that we needed to make sure an episode like it never happens again. The American people took to the streets, sending a message loud and clear – and Congress was listening.

Immediately, we went to work on legislation to make prudent reforms to policing guidelines.

I think both Republicans and Democrats were surprised to find we agreed more than we disagreed. The Democrats wrote their ideal bill, and the Republicans wrote our ideal bill. Both contained provisions to ban chokeholds, limit no-knock warrants, limit the use of force, promote body cameras, create registries of disciplined officers and make lynching a federal crime.

I've served in Congress two terms. I've almost never seen that kind of consensus emerge on a hot-button topic before. That much bipartisanship is usually reserved for renaming post offices.


The next step should have been the House and Senate working together to reconcile the small differences between the bills. Democrats wanted chokeholds recognized as a civil rights violation, for example. But Republicans thought an outright ban on chokeholds sufficient.

But that's not what happened.

A new rally cry rang out: “Defund the police!” Not long after, a historic bipartisan consensus crumbled.

Democrats chose to slip in language to overturn “qualified immunity” for police officers. At first blush, it may sound like an innocent idea. They'll tell you it means police officers can be sued for abuse of power. Only the bad ones will be sued, they explain.

But it'll actually result in abolishing the police – a future no one should want.

No doubt criminals would love the chance to sic a trial lawyer on the one who sent them behind bars. Removing qualified immunity would mean subjecting police to an endless loop of meaningless lawsuits, meaning they'd be spending all their time in the courtroom instead of keeping our communities safe.

Doctors, who are subject to lawsuits, have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for malpractice insurance for when they make a mistake. A doctor will deliver 100 babies, and maybe with one she'll make a mistake. The other 99 are very happy with their doctor. It's just the one who will sue and get a payout from the insurance company.

Who's going to sell insurance to police officers? If a police officer arrests 100 criminals, all 100 are going to try to sue. Not one of them is going to tell the officer, “Thank you for arresting me.”

I imagine there will be few, if any, good police officers who want to work in law enforcement if they're open to endless lawsuits. Even if they wanted to, I'm not sure they could afford it.

By adding language to their bill overturning qualified immunity, Democrats inserted a “poison pill,” language they know will mean the legislation will be defeated by the opposing party. They demanded all or nothing. Which begs the question: Why would Democrats want the bill to fail?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. They chose to politicize their bill to refuse President Donald Trump a win in an election year.

When I met with young Black professionals in Fort Wayne earlier in July, they were frustrated. They asked me: Why hasn't Congress done anything yet? I was hopeful we could accomplish bipartisan, meaningful change after a meeting with local Black pastors a few months ago.

However, petty partisanship continued to divide Congress and stopped Washington from rising to the moment and delivering a bill that includes real reforms. In the end, the Democrats got the talking point they wanted and the nation was shown yet another example of the worst kind of politics.

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