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Senator Shelley Moore Capito Breaks Down Republican Police Reform Bill


A group of Republican senators have drafted a 106-page police reform bill after a nationwide outcry spurred by the killings of Black men and women in the hands of police. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia was part of that group of Republican senators, and we spoke with her yesterday.

Senator, your proposal would, for example, encourage local departments not to use chokeholds, but it wouldn't ban them. Why not?

SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO: Well, I think, essentially, it's a different approach than an outright ban. It basically says that if local police departments and law enforcement don't ban them, then they're not going to get certain grants and certain other federal dollars, much like we did with the seat belt law when it went into effect. You know, you can't get your highway dollars if you don't require seat belts. It's the same effect. And effectively, it would ban chokeholds. So, you know, I'm for an all-out ban for it, but this was the approach that we took in the bill.

SIMON: People have pointed out Eric Garner was killed by a chokehold in 2014 even though that had been banned by the NYPD.

CAPITO: You know, I read that. And I actually did not realize that. I also didn't realize that chokeholds are against the law here in my state of West Virginia. I mean, we got to get serious about this. But the way to get serious is to have serious penalties.

SIMON: Penalties brings up this point. Your colleague, Republican Senator from South Carolina Tim Scott, has said the issue of qualified immunity is what he called a poison pill for Republicans. And let me pause to explain qualified immunity is that provision that prevents government officials, including police, from being sued for damages by citizens. You know, a current Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that after all that's happened, a majority of Americans and 60% of Republicans would like to make it possible for victims of police misconduct to sue police departments for damages. Why not give this issue a real hearing?

CAPITO: I hope that we do on Wednesday because I think, this coming Wednesday, Senator McConnell is going to put the vote up for a motion to proceed, which has a 60-vote threshold. So it has to be a bipartisan exercise. And I am sure that one of the - probably not the first vote, but one of the most vigorous votes will be - and discussions will be on qualified immunity.

Now, this is definitely a hot spot. The House bill, I think, totally wipes it out. You know, you got to realize that qualified immunity doesn't just go to police officers. It goes to teachers and other public service officials. So it's a little bit more complicated than it might seem on the face of it. But I will say this. We're going to have a vigorous discussion on this because every Republican doesn't believe that the system that's in right now is the right system. So we should have it on the Senate floor - have the debate.

SIMON: Senator, do you believe the recent killings - and I'm just going to mention a few of the names - the recent killings of George Floyd and 12-year-old Tamir Rice and Walter Scott and Philando Castile and Jamar Clark and Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner, were they exceptions or examples of systemic racism in U.S. law enforcement?

CAPITO: You know, I think that they're an indicator of a deep problem that we have that we've never really faced. We have within certain institutions and law enforcement some, you know, racial discrimination. Is the law colorblind? Do we have equal justice? And I would have to say we don't.

SIMON: And can you understand the frustration of people who say, well, you know, this issue has been festering; it's not just today; it's time to do something?

CAPITO: It has. I mean, literally, when I saw that the speaker I guess yesterday took down portraits of Confederate soldiers who had been speakers of the House - and I'm not casting aspersions on her for that. I'm saying how many times did she walk by those same portraits, or did I walk by those same portraits, you know, over the 14 years I've been there?

This is the one thing that Tim Scott has taught me. And he is an incredible individual, the senator from South Carolina who is African American. He has told me time and time again, until you walk in our shoes, you do not know. And I can't walk in his shoes, but I can walk with him. And that's what I think we're trying to do.

SIMON: West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, thanks very much for being with us.

CAPITO: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.