Congressional Dems lay out expansive police reform plans

By: - June 8, 2020 12:49 pm

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Updated, 1:53 p.m 6/8/20, 10:45 a.m. 6/9/20 with comments from Dingell

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats outlined their vision for sweeping police reforms on Capitol Hill Monday, following weeks of nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets of Minneapolis: the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer,” said U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat and the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, at a news conference announcing the effort.

The legislation, titled the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, includes a series of measures aimed at increasing police accountability, barring racial profiling and increasing transparency surrounding officers’ actions. U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), Dan Kildee (D-Flint), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) are co-sponsors. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) is a co-sponsor of the Senate version.

“We as a country must acknowledge the need for change to create a future that is inclusive, just, with equality for all and free of hatred and fear,” said Dingell. “This starts with addressing the systematic barriers facing Black and minority communities and the resulting inequities in health, housing, education, along with racism and a broken justice system. There is a lot of work before us. The Justice in Policing Act is commonsense change that beings to strengthen trust between our communities and those whose job it is to keep us safe. It is equally critical that we hold anyone who breaches this sacred trust accountable for their actions. This bill is a first step in putting action with our words.”*

Lawrence said that as second vice-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, “My colleagues and I are dedicated to eradicating racism and bias in policing, and the Justice in Policing Act is the first step in our effort to do this. For decades, systemic racism and bias in law enforcement has destroyed the trust between minority communities and law enforcement, and the murder of George Floyd finally unleashed a
nationwide — and even global — movement to end police brutality against Black Americans.”*

It would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level, limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement officials, and require state and local law enforcement agencies to report use of force data broken down by race and other characteristics.

“This legislation makes it clear that police departments are serving and are answerable to all the residents in their communities, including African Americans,” said U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

The bill would make it easier to prosecute police misconduct in the courts by eliminating the “qualified immunity” doctrine that shields law enforcement officials from lawsuits. It would also change the legal standard for victims alleging police misconduct. Currently, they must show that officers acted “willfully;” the new legislation would require them to show that officers acted “recklessly.”

“We cannot settle for anything less than transformative, structural change,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday. “This is a first step. There is more to come.”

House Democratic leaders said they expect to soon hold hearings and a floor vote on the legislation, which they expect to pass the chamber. Its prospects of clearing the GOP-led Senate and becoming law, however, appear slim.

As Democrats are calling for sweeping changes, the Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), told reporters last week that “there may be a role” for lawmakers in response to police brutality. He said senators would be discussing “what, if anything, is appropriate for us to do.”

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who backs the legislation in the Senate, warned that just last week, “We could not get an anti-lynching bill passed in the United States Senate.”

The House voted earlier this year to make lynching a federal hate crime, but the effort has been blocked in the Senate due to objections from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the New York Times reported last week. The police reform legislation unveiled this week would also make lynching a federal hate crime.

“We’re here because black Americans want to stop being killed,” Harris said Monday. “Reform and change must happen and it must happen now.”

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.