In July, Phoenix police officers opened fire on James Porter Garcia as he sat in his parked car. Witnesses captured the fatal shooting on video.
Following Garcia’s death, dozens of protestors gathered at the Maryvale Estrella Mountain police station — thus joining the millions of Americans who have marched in support of policing reforms the past two months.
By many accounts, Black Lives Matter is the largest protest movement in U.S. history.
People are demanding change — and lawmakers need to capitalize on this momentum to pass real, bipartisan reforms soon. If Congress waits until next year, the window of opportunity may close.
Unfortunately, progress this year looks increasingly uncertain. Just weeks after the tragic death of George Floyd, Sen. Tim Scott, the GOP’s only Black senator, unveiled a police reform bill.
The measure won’t solve all our problems, but it enjoys widespread backing from Republicans — and it’d tie federal funding to bans on chokeholds and use of body cameras, two measures Democrats support.
So at the very least, the measure could help kickstart debate. But Democrats are refusing to even discuss the bill, arguing it doesn’t go far enough. That’s true — but by opposing a bill that doesn’t grant them everything they want, Democrats risk losing the opportunity to achieve meaningful reforms now. And there’s no guarantee that political conditions will be more favorable next year.
Scott’s bill would prioritize investments in community policing. That’s particularly important in a city like Phoenix. In the upcoming fiscal year, the police department is set to receive $592 million, or over 50 percent, of the city’s general fund budget. Meanwhile, the city spends just $40 million on community and economic development.
The bill would also deny federal grants to local police departments unless they ban racial profiling, forbid chokeholds except when lethal force is warranted, require officers to intervene, and involve the Department of Justice in officer credentialing and accreditation.
Both parties can also agree on improving training. Police departments should teach their officers to work with community organizations and engage with mental health professionals and social workers.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema has built a moderate, bipartisan reputation during her two years in the upper chamber. She can help break the gridlock and save Black lives.
“A Black person is five times more likely to be stopped without just cause than a white person,” according to the NAACP.
The Valley, in particular, has long been a hotbed for police abuse and misconduct. In 2018, the Phoenix Police Department shot more people than any other law enforcement agency in America. The police department shot 44 people, killing 23 of them.
Just this summer, Mesa police officers showed up to 26-year-old Lorenzo Jones’ apartment to serve him with a warrant. Jones immediately complied with officers’ orders and raised his arms. Still, police fired three rounds of bean bags at Jones in front of his fiancé and children. We can no longer live in a world where Lorenzo Jones’, James Porter Garcia’s, and George Floyd’s cases sadden — but don’t surprise — us.
It’s up to Sen. Sinema to push her Democratic colleagues to consider Sen. Scott’s bill. Finding common ground is possible — but only if both parties look for it.
Editor’s Note: Katt McKinney is the organizer of All Black Lives Matter Arizona. She also serves as president of Black Women of Faith and president of the National Action Network.