Democrats Unveil Sweeping Police Reform Proposals
U.S. Congress

Democrats Unveil Sweeping Police Reform Proposals

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House and Senate Democrats unveiled a comprehensive sweeping national proposed package Monday morning aimed at police reforms in response to protests over the death of George Floyd that seeks to hold police departments accountable, end the use of police chokeholds, create a national database to track officers with record of misconduct, and outline ways for law enforcement to change their tactics across the country.

The bill, dubbed the “Justice in Policing Act of 2020,” would ban chokeholds, the creation of a National Police Misconduct Registry that would send misconduct complaints, discipline and termination records to the federal government, develop a grant program that would allow state attorneys general to create an independent process to investigate misconduct or excessive use of force, and make it easier for individuals to seek damages from a police officers by limiting the qualified immunity doctrine that protects law enforcement from civil lawsuits, according to the five-page summary of the draft proposed bill.

Crafted by the Congressional Black Caucus, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee and Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, the proposal also imposes mandatory racial and implicit bias training programs while incentivizes states and localities to teach police officers about their “duty to intervene.” The bill sets certain restrictions on the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement and requires federal uniformed police offers to wear body cameras.

“The world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in our country,” Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) said at the press conference where Democrats formally unveiled the legislation. “Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets in Minneapolis, the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer. This movement has now spread to many nations around the world with thousands marching to register their horror and hearing the cry: ‘I can’t breathe.’” 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the police and justice reform is the most aggressive package on law enforcement in decades, describing the reforms as a crucial and long-overdue remedy to racial injustices in law enforcement.

“We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change, which is why the Justice in Policing Act will remove barriers of prosecuting police misconduct and covering damages by addressing the quality immunity doctrine,” Pelosi said at a news conference on the bill. “This moment of national anguish is being transformed into a movement of national action as Americans from across the country peacefully protest to demand an end to injustice.”

The legislation, which has more than 200 Democratic co-sponsors in the House and the Senate. There are no Republican co-sponsors backing the legislation as they have called for improving police training, increasing the reporting of officer-related shooting data, and making it easier to fire police officers charged repeatedly charged with misconduct. It is expected to face strong resistance from Senate Republicans, police unions and local officials who don’t want Washington intervening in their policy making.

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said he didn’t think it was possible to come up with a nationalized, legislative response for policing.

“I don’t think you can come up with a national, enforceable response on conduct or practice, nor do I think you can come up with a national manual that really makes sense for departments,” Blunt said last week.

Pelosi stated that the House will hold hearings, a markup and a vote on the legislation in the coming weeks.

Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Monday that Senate Democrats will “fight like hell to make this a reality” and pass the police reform legislation in the Senate, appealing directly to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We must collectively, all Americans, raise our voices and call on Leader McConnell to put this reform bill on the floor of the Senate before July to be debated and voted on,” Schumer said. “This has never been done before at the federal level. Leader McConnell, let’s have the debate, not just on TV and on Twitter, but on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Just before the news conference, Pelosi and 20 other Democratic lawmakers draped in African kente cloth scarfs, knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds —the exact time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck before he died as a silent tribute.

Progressive Democrats are looking to push a much more drastic efforts than reforming police, such as defunding the police entirely. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is calling for Minneapolis Police Department to be disbanded.

“The Minneapolis Police Department has proven themselves beyond reform,” Omar tweeted. “It’s time to disband them and reimagine public safety in Minneapolis.”

Democratic leaders, along with some members of the Congressional Black Democrats reject the idea of defunding police departments. When asked if she supports the move to defund police, Pelosi said that idea should be “debated at the local level.”

“The fact is that we do have a great deal of legislation coming down the pike that addresses some of the concerns of our communities across the country,” Pelosi said. ”That is a local decision. “That’s a local decision and they will have those debates at the local level. That doesn’t say we’re going to pile more money on to further militarize the police.”

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on policing and oversight. George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd is expected to testify. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced last week that he would hold a hearing on police brutality on June 16.

After the news conference, President Trump tweeted that “Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police. Sorry, I want LAW & ORDER!”

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Mona Salama