Democrats on Capitol Hill unveiled their new sweeping police reform package on Monday, seeking to quickly respond to the outrage that swept across the country in response to George Floyd’s killing in Minnesota.
The bill would make significant changes to training, resources and accountability policies for police nationwide that activists argue is based on decades-old racism built into the system as we know it and led to deaths of black men and women and excessive use of force by authorities.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass said the push for police accountability has become a “rainbow movement” in its diversity around the country and world, acknowledging cell phone videos have exposed how widespread the issue is.
“I am certain police officers want to make sure they are trained in the best practices,” the California Democrat said. “A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly trained officers who are accountable to the public.”
The “Justice and Policing Act” includes provisions to create a National Police Misconduct Registry, curtail racial profiling, federally ban chokeholds and “no-knock” warrants in drug cases, develop a national standard for use of force, and limit the amount of military-grade weapons transferred to local and state departments.
It would also limit “qualified immunity,” which currently prevents government officials and officers from being sued for misconduct while acting in their official capacity.
The bill also would make lynching a federal crime, a proposal that Congress has attempted to codify hundreds of times. It was most recently derailed last week when Sen. Rand Paul called for a more specific definition of lynching be inserted into the bill.
“We can’t settle for anything other than transformative structural change,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
However it does not go as far as some liberal groups are demanding. Progressives have proposed a radical restructuring of the entire system of policing with calls for “Abolish the Police” and “Defund the Police.”
Republicans, including President Trump, have strongly pushed back against those specific demands for abolition of police departments, but have left open the possibility of working on an accountability bill.
“As far as the Democrat package, they haven’t been talking to Republicans about this. So, I’m not sure what they’re going to be rolling out,” Minority Whip Steve Scalise said on Fox News. “But, clearly, you know, if somebody abuses their power in any position of law enforcement, there needs to be accountability. We’ve been talking about that for a long time as well.”
Before unveiling the new bill, Democrats from the House and Senate held a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time a white police officer kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck.
The deaths of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor and Mr. Arbery have ignited more than a week’s worth of unrest and protests across the country and fueled this renewed debate about racial tensions and police accountability.
Derek Chauvin, the now-former Minnesota Police Officer who kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck, was charged with second-degree murder. The other former officers on the scene – Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao – were also charged on Wednesday with aiding and abetting murder and aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Ms. Taylor, an EMT, was shot multiple times after officers entered her apartment with a “no-knock” search warrant in March, sparking an FBI investigation. The department claims police, wearing plain clothes, identified themselves and opened fire after Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker shot first. Charges were ultimately dropped against Mr. Walker, who argued he and Ms. Taylor believed they were victims of a home invasion. The officers involved have not been charged.
Mr. Arbery was shot to death in February by two white men who claimed they suspected him of being a burglar they caught on surveillance sometime before. Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael were arrested in early May and charged with felony murder and aggravated assault.
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