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Pushed by National Uprising, Democratic Lawmakers Unveil Legislation to Overhaul Policing

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Pushed by National Uprising, Democratic Lawmakers Unveil Legislation to Overhaul Policing

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By Andrea Germanos, senior editor and staff writer. Originally published at Common Dreams

After two weeks of nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, a group of congressional Democrats on Monday introduced bicameral legislation to overhaul the nation’s policing practices, including ending racial profiling, banning chokeholds, and curbing the transfer of military grade equipment in law enforcement. The bill would also make lynching a federal crime.

“The Justice in Policing Act establishes a bold, transformative vision of policing in America,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.) as she announced 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.”

The new measure is led by Bass along with Sens. Corey Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).  It’s supported thus far by 166 representatives and 35 senators as well as civil rights organizations including the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Urban League.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), one of the co-sponsors of the House version of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, called the legislation “a bold step towards justice and accountability” that arrives as a result of “those rising up and speaking out, marching and protesting, demanding accountability and fighting for justice.”

A statement from the lawmakers details a number of the provisions in the legislative package:

 

  • Prohibits federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling, and mandates trainingon racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
  • Bans chokeholds, carotid holds, and no-knock warrants at the federal level and limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.
  • Mandates the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal offices and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
  • Establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave on agency from moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.
  • Amends federal criminal statute from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard to successfully identify and prosecute police misconduct.
  • Reforms qualified immunity so that individuals are not barred from recovering damages when police violate their constitutional rights.
  • Establishes public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just, and equitable public safety approaches.
  • Creates law enforcement development and training programs to develop best practices and requires the creation of law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations based on President Obama’s Taskforce on 21st Century policing.
  • Requires state and local law enforcement agencies to report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, age.
  • Improves the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level by granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and creates a grant program for state attorneys general to develop authority to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments.
  • Establishes a Department of Justice task force to coordinate the investigation, prosecution, and enforcement efforts of federal, state, and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct.

Booker, in a Monday statement, said the legislation takes “a comprehensive approach to ending police brutality.”

“On the back-end, the bill fixes our federal laws so law enforcement officers are held accountable for egregious misconduct and police abuses are better tracked and reported,” he said. “And on the front-end, the bill improves police practices and training to prevent these injustices from happening in the first place.”

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the legislation “historic and long overdue” and “responsive to many of the urgent demands being pressed for by our communities and by the people protesting for racial justice and equity across our nation.”

But, she added on Twitter, “This bill is but one step.”

There is “no question that police reform will not solve the problem of police violence alone,” she tweeted. “We need to shrink the footprint of police and criminalization in Black and brown communities incl shifting resources funding this model to positive supports and systems.”

Given that qualified support, Clarke said that her and other civil rights groups would still “push for real change that shrinks the footprint of the criminal legal system, including police, in Black and Brown people’s lives and makes all communities safer and more prosperous.”

The Justice in Policing act does not address a key demand of protesters—to defund police.

Writer Jack Mirkinson described the new legislation as an example of “wholly inadequate attempts to harness the energy of the protests and redirect them onto more politically comfortable paths” when it’s clear “police ‘reform’ is not enough.”

Human rights lawyer and Guardian columnist Derecka Purnell was blunt in her assessment of the proposal, calling it “not a step in the right direction.”

“It reaffirms that policing can be a just institution,” she tweeted. “The last six years have shown that consent decrees does not stop and cannot stop police from surveilling, arresting, and jailing Black people. It is their job.”

 

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