Democrats introduced legislation calling for police reform on Monday in response to ongoing nationwide Black Lives Matter protests following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
“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,” said Congressional Black Caucus chair Karen Bass.
House Judiciary Committee chair Jerrold Nadler, and senators Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.) joined Bass in introducing the legislation.
The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 aims to reduce the legal protection of officers accused of misconduct, as well as introduce restrictions preventing law enforcement from employing lethal force as anything but a last resort. The Justice Department’s power to investigate department-wide practices and prosecute misconduct would also be expanded. The proposed measures would also ban chokeholds, establish a national database of police misconduct, prohibit certain no-knock warrants, limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local authorities, and make lynching a federal crime. Many of these proposals have been sought by civil rights activists for decades.
Democrats will hold a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday to discuss the legislation and hear testimony on how law enforcement officers exhibit racism and excessive force. George Floyd’s brother Philonise is currently the only witness known to be testifying.
While these proposed measures recognize fundamental failures of ensuring public safety in the United States, Democratic lawmakers distanced themselves from growing calls to “defund the police” within the Black Lives Matter movement, which entails drastically scaling back the role of law enforcement in the country and redistributing its vast financial resources to other communal projects.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested that “defunding” was not an issue for Congress to tackle. “That is a local decision, a local level,” she said.
A spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden also issued a statement saying he opposed defunding the police.
While Democrats expect to pass the bill quickly in the House of Representatives, the legislation will also need to be approved by a Republican-controlled Senate as well as President Donald Trump.