Democrats unveiled sweeping new legislation Monday that, if passed, would increase accountability of police officers by banning certain practices and significantly curbing immunity from legal consequences stemming from acts committed in the line of duty.
The bill comes as Americans across the country have protested against racism and police brutality in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, who was pinned to the ground by his neck by a Minneapolis police officer.
“We’re here because black Americans want to stop being killed,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., told reporters at a Monday press conference, but noted that “reforming policing is in the best interest of all Americans.”
The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 would lower the bar for police officers to face criminal prosecution by allowing charges not just in cases where alleged misconduct was intentional, but also in cases of reckless misconduct. It also seeks to incentivize independent investigations at the state and local level and allow more “pattern and practice” investigations by state attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The bill also includes a provision for a separate crime for conspiring to violate federal hate crime laws, which would theoretically add a charge against mob-style lynchings. A recent anti-lynching bill failed.
Through the bill, Democrats seek to establish a national use of force standard, ban federal use of chokeholds and racial profiling, and set up a National Police Misconduct Registry to maintain public records of officers’ violations.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said that chokeholds and knees to the neck like what George Floyd experience were “unacceptable,” “uncivilized” and “un-American,” and that under this bill would be “unlawful.”
Prior to the press conference, Democratic lawmakers led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a nearly nine-minute long moment of silence -- taking a knee for the same amount of time that Floyd was kept on the ground -- and wearing African-style kente scarves, which Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., later said was for “respecting our past.”
Addressing the media, Pelosi said that “transformative change” was necessary to better the country, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to help swiftly pass the bill.
“A divided nation cannot wait for healing, for solutions,” Schumer said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supported black Americans protesting after Floyd's death, saying the country "cannot deafen itself to the anger, pain, or frustration of black Americans."
Harris claimed that in addition to police misconduct, “there is a broader issue that is not being addressed in this bill.” That issue, she said, is that people are erroneously equating safer communities with more police officers.
“The real way to achieve safe and healthy communities is to invest in those communities,” she said, “in affordable housing, in the ability for homeownership, jobs, funding for public schools, giving people access to capital so they can grow those small businesses that are part of the leadership and health of these communities.”
That sentiment is similar to a recent rallying cry among Democrats to “defund the police” and reallocate money toward community initiatives.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who supports the new bill, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that while he understands the sentiment behind this, “it’s not a slogan I will use.”
Some Democrats have called for disbanding police forces altogether. The Minneapolis City Council has already said they plan to do this in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.
Republicans are stepping up attacks on Democrats who are going along with calls disband the police.
“No industry is safe from the Democrats’ abolish culture,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams said in a statement. “First they wanted to abolish private health insurance, then it was capitalism and now it’s the police.”
But Republicans are not the only ones opposing this. Bass told CNN Sunday that she is against disbanding police departments.
"Now I don't believe that you should disband police departments," she said but she did agree with the idea that cities and states "need to look at how we are spending the resources and invest more in our communities."