Responding to the anti-police protests that have swept the United States, the US House of Representatives has passed ambitious and far-reaching legislation on police reform.
The legislation seeks to ban neck holds of the kind that killed George Floyd and would lift legal obstacles that shield police from lawsuits. It would authorise $2.5bn for independent investigations of police abuse and open avenues for replacing some police in communities with social workers.
Broadly backed by US civil rights groups, the Democrat-drafted House bill attempts to put into law the demands of protesters who have rallied across the US for police reforms. It is opposed by police unions and President Donald Trump.
“In America today, a Black American is three times more likely to be killed by police compared to a white person,” said Representative Jim McGovern, a leading House Democrat.
“Police shoot, arrest and imprison more people in our country than in similar advanced nations. It’s the exception when an officer who broke the law when committing a fatal shooting is convicted of a crime. It’s not the norm,” McGovern said.
The legislation passed roughly along party lines in a vote of the full House on Thursday night, but what happens next is unclear. The House bill will stall unless Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress, who are far apart on key issues in the bill, can find a way to work together.
President Donald Trump has taken a hardline ‘law and order’ stance against anti-police protests and is trying to blame Democrats for damage to public parks and statues [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]
The White House warned on Wednesday that President Trump would veto the measure. In a policy statement, the Office of Management and Budget called the Democratic bill “over-broad” and “excessive” and said it would “fail to bring law enforcement and the communities they serve closer together”.
The Senate on Wednesday failed to muster enough votes to take up a Republican-backed policing bill that would authorise nearly $7bn in new grants for police. Civil rights groups came out strongly against the measure and Democrats refused to let it come to the Senate floor for debate.
Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said Democrats “want to weaken our police”.
“They want to take away a lot of the strength from our police and from law enforcement generally, and we can’t live with it. We can’t live with it,” Trump said at a news conference.
The National Association of Police Organizations, a coalition of police unions and associations with 240,000 members nationwide, said in a letter to House legislators that opening the door to potential lawsuits would have a “chilling effect” on police.
And, chokeholds “are a vital tool to have when use of deadly force is justified”, the police letter said.
New York Police Department officers in formation after arresting multiple protesters after curfew in June [File: John Minchillo/AP Photo]