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Congress must act on police reform, don’t let opponents divert the conversation

This week, the House of Representatives will vote on the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act, landmark legislation passed last week by the Judiciary Committee, designed to rebuild trust between police departments and the communities they serve by improving police training, collecting better data on police misconduct, and increasing police accountability. The bill would prohibit the use of deadly force except to protect life. Real change is required to restore the trust between our police, sworn to serve and protect, and our citizenry, whose very lives depend upon that oath.

The movement that is taking place across our nation is too important, too timely, and too long overdue, to be perverted by misinformation and misdirection. The term “defund the police” is being misused by some who oppose our nation moving toward racial equality and justice. Admittedly, the term “defund,” which emerged from the protests and not from the Democratic Party, lends itself to misuse and misinterpretation. A more accurate and less controversial term would be “re-fund the police.”

Those who wish to examine policing across the nation in a rational and thoughtful manner, including many in law enforcement, realize that the police have taken on many non-traditional policing roles, such as dealing with homelessness and mental illness, which frequently go hand in hand. Police resources are expended for activities that should be mediated by homeowners’ associations, social workers and the medical community. Re-funding the police would properly allocate resources and allow police to do the jobs for which they are trained, ensuring public safety and countering violent conduct. The allocation of all government resources should be a topic of reasonable discussion.

Last week’s Judiciary Committee meeting highlighted the continuing divide between those who realize that the majority of American voters, and many in law enforcement, desire law enforcement reform and those who play too often to an audience of one. And that presidential audience of one plays to his base which, sadly, includes those in the right wing racist fringe as well as some members of law enforcement who view any attempt at reform as an attack upon police.

However, some Republicans continue to divert the conversation from police misconduct, to misdirect and obfuscate, rather than address the urgent matter of police misconduct. Instead of speaking to the chilling instances of people of color who have died at the hands of police for no defensible reason, the Republicans sought to change the narrative to Planned Parenthood and abortion, Robert Muller, the FBI and Michael Flynn, among other incomprehensible deflections.

A particularly alarming ruse was blaming the antifascist group, Antifa, for violence and looting during recent riots. Despite no credible evidence that Antifa played any real role in the rioting, the president and many Republicans have been laser focused on blaming Antifa since Charlottesville, Va., attempting to paint the group as the left equivalent of the KKK and other white supremacist factions.

However, evidence suggests that Boogaloo, an extremist group with right wing, white supremacist members, tried to use the peaceful protests to their own ends. Boogaloo’s goals include overthrowing the government and starting a second civil war. Boogaloo often takes advantage during times of unrest to create confusion and stoke violence. But not a word was mentioned by the Republicans about Boogaloo. Perhaps this is because a member of Boogaloo has been arrested for the shooting of federal officer Patrick Underwood. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) arranged for Officer Underwood’s sister to testify before the committee earlier this month, appearing as the Republicans’ counterpoint to the testimony of Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, ostensibly to show that rioters were responsible for Officer Underwood’s death. Since then a Boogaloo member has been charged with killing Officer Underwood and, eight days later, the murder of a sheriff’s deputy in Santa Cruz.

Why are Republicans eager to change the focus? Because statistics show an uptick in far-right extremist activity, including Boogaloo, as governments responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. After President Trump called for MAGA night in response to demonstrations in front of the White House, more Boogaloo boys showed up at Floyd rallies, not to support the peaceful protests, but with their own agenda which includes targeting police. Seeking to blame Antifa and ignore the very real and recent threat of the Boogaloo Boys in inciting and perpetrating violence against citizens and law enforcement is deliberately misleading.

Let us all hope that when the bill is considered this week in the House that the debate is clear-eyed and focused honestly on police reform and justice and equality for all.

Steve Cohen, a Democrat, is a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee. He represents Tennessee’s 9th District.

Tags Donald Trump Kevin McCarthy police brutality police reform Protests Steve Cohen

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