“Don’t blame the police.”
That was a common refrain from Republican Rep. Ken Buck at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on police accountability Wednesday.
The Weld County Republican said a few officers are attracted to the uniform for the wrong reasons, “but the bad cops are an extremely small percentage of the police officers in this country,” Buck said.
Democrats are moving forward on a police reform bill that would ban chokeholds, like the one that killed George Floyd, make all federal officers wear body cameras and fund more training.
But Buck, a former district attorney, said those proposals do not address the root causes of crime.
“A comprehensive bill, as was discussed earlier, must recognize the societal impact of single-parent families, of substance abuse, of mental health issues, of a failed education issue, and transnational gangs,” he said.
“Don’t blame the police for our breakdown in society. They are doing their best to clean up the mess caused by politicians,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana took issue with Buck’s comments, saying he was ignoring the impact of centuries of racial inequality.
The list of witnesses at the hearing included Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, and Angela Underwood Jacobs, the sister of Dave Patrick Underwood, the Federal Protective Service officer who was killed near a protest in Oakland, California.
While Buck spent his time for questions focused on the causes of crime and the role of police in the country, Colorado Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse asked about the lack of data on policing. There is no easily accessible way to find out how many police officers fired a Taser in a year, or how many people have been injured while in police custody.
“As a result, it has hindered our understanding and our ability to hold law enforcement accountable in real-time,” Neguse said.
The Boulder-area Democrat said that kind of information is critical to ensuring the use of force by police is properly regulated.
For Neguse, the focus should be on a different phrase from the one Buck repeated: “I can’t breathe.”
Those words, Neguse said, were uttered not just by Floyd, but also by Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer, as well as by Elijah McClain, who died while in Aurora police custody last summer.
“It is past time that Congress ban chokeholds and other harmful police tactics that have led to far too many deaths,” Neguse said.
Colorado state lawmakers are close to passing a bill that would ban chokeholds by law enforcement, among other reforms.
Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Tim Scott, are focused on police reform policies that include requiring police to report incidents of use-of-force and more funding for body cameras.