Politics

Democrats unveil police reform bill after nationwide protests against brutality

Key Points
  • Democrats released a bill to reform policing amid a nationwide reckoning over brutality and systemic racism.
  • The legislation would make it easier for victims of abuses to recover damages, create a national registry of police misconduct and ban chokeholds, among other provisions. 
  • The measure follows furor over a string of police killings of black Americans. 
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) kneel with Congressional Democrats during a moment of silence to honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others inside Emancipation Hall after weeks of protests against racial inequality in the aftermath in Minneapolis police custody of Floyd, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Top congressional Democrats unveiled a bill Monday to overhaul police practices as Americans gather daily to protest excessive use of force and systemic racism. 

Lawmakers in the House and Senate released the legislation two weeks after the death of George Floyd, the black, unarmed man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The incident sparked nationwide furor over sustained brutality against black Americans. His death added to a string of recent killings of black men and women that has led to perhaps the biggest reckoning over racism in the U.S. in decades. 

The Democratic legislation would make sweeping changes designed both to deter police use of force and hold officers more accountable for abuses. The federal bill comes as changes start at the local level: most of the Minneapolis City Council on Sunday committed to disbanding and replacing the city's police force, while New York City will consider a range of law enforcement reforms. 

Here's some of what congressional Democrats' bill would do: 

  • Reform "qualified immunity" for officers, making it easier for people whose constitutional rights were violated to recover damages 
  • Change the federal standard of criminal police behavior from "willful" to acting "knowingly or with reckless disregard," to address the difficulty of prosecuting officers 
  • Start a federal registry of police misconduct and require states to report use of force to the U.S. Justice Department 
  • Ban police use of chokeholds and carotid holds, and condition funding for state and local departments on barring the practices 
  • Stop the use of "no-knock" search warrants in drug cases in the U.S., while also making state and local money contingent on stopping use of the warrants
  • Give the Justice Department subpoena power to carry out "pattern and practice" investigations into police department conduct
  • Provide state attorneys general with grants to carry out pattern and practice probes and create a process for independent investigations into uses of force 
  • Require training on racial bias and implicit bias at the federal level, and condition state and local funding on offering training
  • Curb transfers of military-grade weapons to state and local police
  • Classify lynching as a federal hate crime
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) looks on as Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) addresses reporters during a news conference to unveil police reform and racial injustice legislation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The bill "establishes a bold, transformative vision of policing in America," said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., at a news conference where Democrats introduced the measure. She said Americans should not have to witness "the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer." Bass added that the bill has more than 200 co-sponsors in both chambers of Congress. 

The Democratic plan did not meet many activists' demands to slash — or entirely cut — police funding. Bass said the bill "does not provide any new money for policing." It does offer funds for two components: the requirement to track and report use of force and the investigations by state attorneys general, according to NBC News. 

It is unclear whether the bill as written — or any specific parts of it — could garner support from Republicans. The GOP controls the Senate, while Democrats hold the House. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that "in the Senate, Democrats are going to fight like hell" to pass the legislation. He called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bill to the Senate floor and hold a debate on it "before July." 

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stands with Congressional Democrats as she addresses a news conference to unveil legislation to combat police violence and racial injustice after weeks of protests against racial inequality in the aftermath in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The Senate Judiciary Committee previously announced it plans to hold a hearing on police use of force. Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina senator and the only black Republican in the chamber, also plans to introduce his own legislation that would include a provision requiring states that get federal money for policing to report when police shoot someone, NBC News reported. 

A White House spokesman did not immediately comment on whether President Donald Trump would back the legislation. On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that "the president must not stand in the way of justice." 

When lawmakers were asked about their confidence the bill will pass, Bass said she has hope because "there is a movement that has caught fire." 

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