House Democrats on Monday unveiled their sweeping new legislation aimed at reforming the ways in which police departments enforce the nation’s laws. Led by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 ambitiously aims to end police brutality, hold police accountable, improve transparency in policing and create meaningful, structural change when it comes to how law enforcement does their jobs.
Clad in Kente cloth, Democratic leaders explained during a press conference announcing the bill why the Justice in Policing Act is so necessary in this moment.
“The Justice and Policing Act establishes a bold, transformative vision of policing in America,” CBC Chair and California Rep. Karen Bass kicked off the press conference by saying Monday morning. “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,” she said in reference to the horrific police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
Bass kept referring to a new “movement” that she said would help the bill become law to hold police more accountable for their actions.
“A profession where you have have the power to kill, should be a profession that requires highly trained officers who are accountable to the public,” she said.
If the bill advances through the House and Senate and gets signed into law, it would be the first-ever bold, comprehensive law enforcement accountability and transparency legislation.
Authored by Bass, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris and New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the multi-tiered Justice in Policing Act makes an effort to address many of the issues highlighted from the recent spate of police killings of unarmed Black people. That includes putting pieces in place (or taking them away) in order to affect real structural change with meaningful reform to establish a better rapport between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
Some of the notable portions of the bill include redefining malleable legal terms that impede the successful prosecution of killer cops as well as not offering any new federal funding for police departments.
Perhaps most significantly, the bill aims to hold police accountable by collecting data about officers accused of misconduct and worse behavior. It would establish a national registry that would attempt to address loopholes that allow cops who have been fired from one department to be hired by another.
There are other pertinent provisions the Justice in Policing Act covers, as well, including mandating the use of body cameras and dashboard cameras.
The bill also apparently offers a nod to the deaths of Floyd as well as Ahmaud Arbery by banning police from using a chokehold as well as making lynching a federal crime.
Floyd died from now-fired Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin using his knee to apply deadly pressure to the neck of the handcuffed and unarmed 46-year-old Black man, bring attention to the controversial neck restraints that have proven deadly. Arbery was hunted down and shot in the middle of a road in broad daylight in Georgia by accused racists in an act that’s been called a modern-day lynching. Their deaths came after those who have suffered similar fates at the hands of police, including Eric Garner and Emmett Till.
Congress has notably failed for more than a century to enact federal anti-lynching legislation. The Justice in Policing Act would not only address that shortcoming but also re-establish the controversial definition of lynching, which Democratic aides discussing background on the bill said highlight the group nature of violent acts. That would constitute charges for conspiring to violate one of the hate crimes already on the books.
The Justice in Policing Act’s announcement followed 13 straight days of America protesting racism in demonstrations that were inspired in part by police violence.
While the bill was hailed by some, it did have its detractors. The ACLU noted that “the legislation also provides hundreds of millions more to law enforcement,” which the civil liberties group called “a nonstarter.” The ACLU’s senior legislative counsel said the bill was a good start but that more needed to be done to change police from top to bottom.
“There can be no more Band-Aid or temporary fixes when it comes to policing, which is why we are calling for divestment from law enforcement agencies and reinvestment into the Black and Brown communities that have been harmed by over policing and mass incarceration,” Kanya Bennett said in a brief statement on Monday. “The role of police has to be smaller, more circumscribed, and less funded with taxpayer dollars.”
There’s no guarantee that after the bill passes in a majority Democrat House that the Republican-laden Senate will do the same. The president has been a vehement opponent of the movement to defund police, which the Justice in Policing Act calls for, and a major proponent when it comes to what he calls “law and order.”