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Attorneys for families of police violence tell lawmakers they want ‘meaningful’ changes in police reform bill

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Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and advocates who want to overhaul the nation’s policing laws held a series of meetings Thursday searching for legislation that can pass both chambers of Congress, the day after President Joe Biden highlighted the demand for policing reform in his prime-time address.

The families of several victims of police violence met with South Carolina Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and discussed negotiations over legislation related to police reform. Scott — who gave the Republican rebuttal to Biden’s speech — has been a leading negotiator for GOP lawmakers. After the meeting the attorneys for those families said that they made it clear to the senators that they want to see what they described as “meaningful change” that comes from the passage of these bills.

When pressed on specifics as to how meaningful is defined, at first the attorneys deferred to the senators saying that they had made their priorities clear.

Attorney Ben Crump said that what the families wanted to make clear was that their lost family members represent the urgent need for change.

“It means more to these families than anybody else because that legislation will literally have the blood stain of their loved ones,” Crump said. “And that was the tone and the tenor of the meeting, they listened to us and talked about how they wanted to make sure it was meaningful.”

“They got to hear directly from the families whose blood will be owed the legislation that is being proposed. They listen intensely. They got very emotional at times,” he said.

When pressed if that includes the elimination of qualified immunity protection, civil rights Attorney Bakari Sellers said that they want to make sure to hold individual officers accountable.

“They must hold individual police officers accountable,” Sellers said, “That includes both on the criminal and civil side.”

When asked if that meant those specific changes Sellers responded “Yes.”

The group next met with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who, with Rep. Karen Bass of California, represent Democrats in their congressional negotiations on policing reform. Scott, Graham, Booker and Bass are expected to meet later Thursday afternoon with other key lawmakers, including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican from Minnesota.

Graham said after meeting with the families of the victims of police violence that he believes it is possible to find a “sweet spot” in the bill that satisfies all the concerns of the parties involved. Graham said that the goal is to create a policy that changes behavior.

Graham suggested it might not be necessary to lift immunity protections on individual officers to reach the goals everyone wants.

“Legal liability drives change. If you’re making a car, and you can get sued if you make a bad car, you’ll think better about making cars,” Graham said. “So having the department, not the officer, being the defendant is probably a good change. It takes a lot of pressure off cops. They can still be prosecuted if they did something criminally, but it can’t be strict liability.”

Graham argued putting the departments in civil legal jeopardy could actually lead to the change people are looking for.

“You’re trying to get them to up their training, trying to get them to hire better people and police the police,” Graham said. “So, that putting them in the crosshairs legally, we’ll do that. But you also got to realize that policing is, is a difficult job and, and, yeah, give, give the departments, some defenses.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters earlier Thursday that she will bring the bill that comes out of the bipartisan talks on police reform “when we are ready,” giving lawmakers more room than Biden did Wednesday night when he urged Congress to pass legislation by the anniversary of George Floyd’s death on May 25.

“We will bring it to the floor when we are ready. And we’ll be ready when we have a good, strong bipartisan bill. And that is up to the Senate, and then we’ll have it in the House because it would be a different bill,” Pelosi outlined.

Asked by CNN if she is worried about the bipartisan version of the bill passing in the House after many progressives have pushed back on compromises coming out of negotiations, Pelosi said she is “very confident” the bipartisan bill will pass the House.

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