Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., promised to take the movement with her to Washington D.C. when she was elected. And she continues to deliver by introducing legislation that would prioritize alternatives to policing in response to incidents involving mental health or substance abuse.
Titled The People’s Response Act, the bill would create a new division within the Department of Health and Human Services. While individual cities are looking into creating mental health response teams, the proposed Division of Community Safety would research and fund alternatives to incarceration and policing.
“Our communities deserve a better response to mental health and substance use crises — which is why this new Division would be tasked with creating a trauma-informed federal response unit that can be deployed to communities to support state and local governments in responding to emergencies, substance use, and mental health crises,” said Bush in a statement.
A trained nurse, Bush has seen first hand the toll police interactions can take on people with mental health trauma. Citing a study by the Washington Post, the American Psychological Association pointed out that nearly 25% of police killings involve a person with a known mental health condition.
Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Jan Schakowsky, and Pramila Jayapal join Bush as lead co-sponsors of the People’s Response Act. Other co-sponsors include Reps. Barbara Lee, Mondaire Jones, and Bonnie Watson Coleman.
In a thread about the legislation on Twitter, Bush suggests that her proposal would holistically look at safety. She continues to call for official actions to prioritize wellness and compassion over trauma and punishment.
Coleman joined Bush earlier this month in introducing legislation to end penalties for drug possession. In a move to decriminalize substances, the Drug Policy Reform Act would shift the regulatory authority of substances in the Controlled Substances Act from the Attorney General to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Other provisions include preventing civil asset forfeiture in personal drug possession cases, prohibiting employment decisions based on criminal history for drug possession, and providing relief for those incarcerated or on supervision for certain drug-related offenses.
Endorsed by dozens of organizations across the country and in Bush’s hometown of St. Louis, the People’s Response Act has been praised as a reflective approach to actual community-based solutions.
“Through our Community Release with Support model, we have seen time again that housing, employment, mental health care, and other voluntary services can help return a person to court pretrial or keep them out of the system altogether, ” said Kanya Bennett, Senior Policy Counsel & Legislative Coalition Manager for The Bail Project. “We look forward to building upon the foundation that this legislation will set in fostering more non-carceral and community-based models to public safety.”