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Tyre Nichols killing sparks renewed calls in Congress for police reform

Calls for police reform rise
Growing calls for police reform after release of Tyre Nichols' arrest video 03:48

Washington — Lawmakers return to the Capitol this week confronted with a new round of appeals for police reform following the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police. Five officers have been fired and charged with murder after video showed them repeatedly punching and kicking the 29-year-old while he was restrained. 

"We are calling on our colleagues in the House and Senate to jumpstart negotiations now and work with us to address the public health epidemic of police violence that disproportionately affects many of our communities," Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chair Steven Horsford said in a statement Sunday.

The Nevada Democrat also called for a meeting between the CBC and President Biden this week "to push for negotiations on much needed national reforms to our justice system — specifically, the actions and conduct of our law enforcement."

CBC Executive Director Vincent Edwards says Nichols' parents have accepted an invitation from Horsford to be his guest at Mr. Biden's State of the Union address next month.

Police reform negotiations broke down in 2021 after months of extensive discussions between then-Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois urged both senators to return to the table.

"I think [Booker] and Scott should sit down again quickly to see if we can revive that effort," Durbin said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

Scott said Monday on the Senate floor that he never left the negotiating table, and "we should have simple legislation that we can agree upon that has been agreed upon in the past, but too often too many are too concerned with who gets the credit."

"Our nation is reeling. People, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, nonaffiliates, Black folks, white folks, rich folks, poor folks, Southerners, Northerners, the west coast, and the east coast are sick and tired of politics as usual," Scott said. "We as a nation deserve better. We should be able to build a coalition around the common ground of, yes, we need more training on de-escalation. Yes, we need more training and resources on the duty to intervene. Yes, we need more grants. And, yes, we need the best wearing the badge."

No meetings are currently scheduled between the pair but both lawmakers remain in touch, according to congressional sources. 

"Senator Scott has been working on police funding and reform for the better part of the last decade," a Scott spokesperson told CBS News. "He never left the negotiating table and has encouraged his colleagues on the other side of the aisle to join him in his continued efforts to increase safety in our communities."

In separate statements Friday, Scott said Nichols' killing should be a "call to action for every lawmaker," while Booker said he will be renewing "legislative efforts to advance" reform. 

Booker is expected to introduce police reform legislation in the next couple of weeks, according to an individual familiar with his plans. The source said potential legislation was in the works prior to Nichols' death and could incorporate updated components of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as well as a separate measure that could include pieces of a compromise that was previously proposed to garner bipartisan support.

Talks broke down in September 2021 after Booker and Scott failed to reach agreement on a Democratic proposal to codify an executive order from the Trump administration that would have enacted reforms such as banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants and improving federal data collection efforts.

Photo of Tyre Nichols holding his son
Tyre Nichols holdling his son in an undated photo. Ben Crump Law

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would limit qualified immunity for officers, prevent racial profiling and restrict the use of excessive force. It was passed twice by the Democratic-controlled House in 2020 and 2021 but its prospects remain uncertain with the GOP in control of the majority in that chamber. 

"I don't know if there is any law that can stop the evil that we saw," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Nichols and Floyd families, has called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. A Democratic aide says the bill is unlikely to be reintroduced in the House this week.  

Texas Rep. Jasmine Crockett called Nichols' killing a "painful reminder of the history of this country." The freshman Democrat and civil rights lawyer said legislative efforts could prove futile until Republicans are ready to have a conversation about police brutality.

"I don't know if we'll get anywhere but I think it's important for us to make sure that our constituents know that their pain will not be ignored by us and that we will continue to fight and continue to press the envelope," Crockett told CBS News.

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