Democrats unveil police reform legislation

Updated 09 Jun 2020

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Proposed legislation follows the death in police custody of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last month that sparked worldwide protests and calls for police reforms in the United States. — Reuters/File
Proposed legislation follows the death in police custody of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last month that sparked worldwide protests and calls for police reforms in the United States. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: Democrats in the US House of Representatives and the Senate unveiled a bill on Monday which seeks to overhaul policing in the United States with reforms aimed at curbing racism in law enforcement.

The proposed legislation follows the death in police custody of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last month that sparked worldwide protests and calls for police reforms in the United States.

The bill, titled the “Justice in Policing Act”, would ban chokeholds, including the kind used by a police officer in Minneapolis on Floyd, as well as no-knock warrants in drug cases, as was used in the incident leading to the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.

It would also make lynching a hate crime, after the Senate failed to pass an anti-lynching bill last week.

“We cannot settle for anything less than transformative, structural change,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as lawmakers introduced the bill at a news conference in Washington.

“We’re here because black Americans want to stop being killed,” said Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s likely running rate.

The 136-page bill includes reforms to make it easier to prosecute police officers for misconduct and to prosecute violators by changing the requirement of prosecution from “willfulness” to “recklessness.”

It would make it easier to claim damages for violation of constitutional rights and proposes structural reforms at the Justice Department by granting the department’s Civil Rights Division subpoena power.

The bill would also incentivize state attorneys to investigate local police and create structures for investigating police-involved deaths.

Other reforms include creating a National Police Misconduct Registry, and mandating state and local law enforcement to turn over data on race, gender, disability, religion, and age-based biases.

The proposal also mandates racial and cultural training for police officers.

“The world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in our country,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass while introducing the bill. “A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession where you have highly trained officers accountable to the public.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he plans to convene the House as soon as the bill is ready for a vote, likely before end June. Democrats have a majority in the House and can easily pass the bill after procedural hearings and debates.

But Hoyer said he was not confident if the Senate will pass the legislation given how it failed to pass a bipartisan bill making lynching a federal crime.

Republicans have a majority in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, however, urged his Republican colleague and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bill to the Senate floor for debate and a vote before July.

“Americans who took to the streets this week have demanded change,” he said. “With this legislation, Democrats are heeding their calls.”

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2020