Congressional Dems lay out police reform plans

Police officers hold protesters back as they try to march forward in Las Vegas May 30. (Nevada Current file photo)
Police officers hold protesters back as they try to march forward in Las Vegas May 30. (Nevada Current file photo)

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats outlined their vision for sweeping police reforms on Capitol Hill Monday, following weeks of nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets of Minneapolis: the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer,” said Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat and the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, at a news conference announcing the effort.

“I know all too well the pain and loss the Black community has faced because of law enforcement use of force,” said Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “As we mourn George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, we need concrete federal reforms to address the root causes of these injustices.”

Horsford was among 135 House Democratic cosponsors of the legislation, which also includes Nevada Rep. Dina Titus.

The legislation, titled the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, includes a series of measures aimed at increasing police accountability, barring racial profiling and increasing transparency surrounding officers’ actions.

It would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level, limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement officials, and require state and local law enforcement agencies to report use of force data broken down by race and other characteristics.

The bill would make it easier to prosecute police misconduct in the courts by eliminating the “qualified immunity” doctrine that shields law enforcement officials from lawsuits. It would also change the legal standard for victims alleging police misconduct. Currently, they must show that officers acted “willfully;” the new legislation would require them to show that officers acted “recklessly.”

“We cannot settle for anything less than transformative, structural change,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday. “This is a first step. There is more to come.”

House Democratic leaders said they expect to soon hold hearings and a floor vote on the legislation, which they expect to pass the chamber. Its prospects of clearing the GOP-led Senate and becoming law, however, appear slim.

As Democrats are calling for sweeping changes, the Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, told reporters last week that “there may be a role” for lawmakers in response to police brutality. He said senators would be discussing “what, if anything, is appropriate for us to do.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat backing the legislation in the Senate, warned that just last week, “We could not get an anti-lynching bill passed in the United States Senate.”

The House voted earlier this year to make lynching a federal hate crime, but the effort has been blocked in the Senate due to objections from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, The New York Times reported last week. The police reform legislation unveiled this week would also make lynching a federal hate crime.

“We’re here because black Americans want to stop being killed,” Harris said Monday. “Reform and change must happen and it must happen now.”

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.