WASHINGTON, D.C.—Over the past month, our nation has been coming to terms with the harsh reality and circumstances surrounding the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, and the subsequent social unrest that our country has experienced. The horrifying video footage documenting his murder while in police custody has shaken the conscience of our entire nation. George Floyd’s murder was a horrendous injustice of epic proportions that should never happen in any society. The investigation into his murder must continue and all culpable parties must be held fully accountable, charged, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Moreover, the circumstances behind and surrounding his murder must be a catalyst for needed meaningful reform and social reconciliation. Our nation ought to be 100% focused on achieving complete justice for George Floyd and his family. It is imperative, also, that we accomplish this while still supporting the women and men in law enforcement. This year in Congress, the only way we can ensure that a policing reform bill is signed into law is by coming to the table with all parties, in good faith, to finally end this injustice.
Thus far, two pieces of legislation have been introduced: one drafted by Senator Tim Scott and introduced in the House by Rep. Pete Stauber (S. 3985/H.R. 7278 The JUSTICE Act), and the other by Rep. Karen Bass and Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris (S. 3912/H.R. 7120 The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020).
Below are summaries of the two bills:
S. 3912/H.R. 7120 The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020:
· Prohibits federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling, and mandates training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
· Bans chokeholds, carotid holds, and no-knock warrants at the federal level and limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.
· Mandates the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal officers and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
· Establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave an agency from moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.
· Amends federal criminal statute from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard to identify and prosecute police misconduct.
· Changes qualified immunity so that individuals are not barred from recovering damages when police violate their constitutional rights.
· Establishes public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just and equitable public safety approaches.
· Creates law enforcement development and training programs to develop best practices and requires the creation of law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations based on President Obama’s Taskforce on 21st Century policing.
· Requires state and local law enforcement agencies to report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, age.
· Improves the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level by granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and creates a grant program for state attorneys general to develop authority to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments.
· Establishes a Department of Justice task force to coordinate the investigation, prosecution, and enforcement efforts of federal, state, and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct.
· Includes the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, making lynching a federal crime.
S. 3985/H.R. 7278 JUSTICE Act:
· Ensures law enforcement agencies and officers are held accountable by developing accessible disciplinary records systems.
· Provides $500 million for state and local law enforcement agencies to equip all officers with body cameras, improve the use of body cameras, and store and retain footage.
· Bans the use of chokeholds except for in situations where deadly force is authorized.
· Improves law enforcement transparency through additional reporting including annual reporting on the use of force and reporting on no-knock warrants.
· Improves officer training by directing the Attorney General to develop training curricula related to the duty to intervene and de-escalation and appropriates funds to pay for costs associated with new training requirements.
· Includes the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, making lynching a federal crime.
· Creates a bipartisan commission on the social status of black men and boys to issue a report to Congress on conditions affecting black men and boys, including education, health care, financial status, and the criminal justice system.
On the Executive Order front, on June 16th, 2020, the President issued an Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities that is designed to incentivize law enforcement agencies to implement best practices and protect the communities they serve. Under the Order, the Attorney General will allocate certain grant funding to only those law enforcement agencies that meet high standards, including around use-of-force and de-escalation, as credentialed by independent bodies. The Order provides incentives for law enforcement agencies to use a nationwide database to track terminations, criminal convictions, and civil judgments against law enforcement officers for excessive use-of-force, which would create accountability between agencies. The Order would prioritize training and other programs for police and social workers responding to incidents involving the mentally ill, those suffering from addiction, and the homeless. The President also directed the Administration to develop and propose new legislation to Congress to further the policies of the Order and build community engagement.
The Senate version of the JUSTICE Act (H.R. 7278), authored by Senator Tim Scott, was intended to serve as a launching point for bicameral negotiations. Yesterday, progress stalled on this legislation in the Senate. We simply cannot allow the legislative process to stop on this time-sensitive and crucial matter.
Today I voted for The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 because it contains many much-needed reforms, and because we must move the legislative process and negotiations forward so we can begin to repair the social contract between police officers and the communities that they serve. It is important to note that, like Senator Tim Scott’s legislation in the Senate, this House legislation will serve as a launching point for bipartisan, bicameral negotiations and is still in need of modified bipartisan language before being considered in its final form; namely, a qualified immunity provision that needs to be drafted in a bipartisan manner that simultaneously accomplishes two key objectives: the protection of citizens’ constitutional rights and civil liberties, and the protection of police officers’ safety and ability to do their jobs free from fear of potential frivolous lawsuits. We can, and must, accomplish both. When the House and Senate versions are brought together to the conference committee, this will launch the process to help mend the gap and rebuild the social contract between police officers and the communities that they serve. Having served as a lifelong federal law enforcement agent and federal prosecutor, I will play an active role in bridging this gap. And I will insist that the final package be written in a way that both protects citizens’ constitutional and civil rights and preserves the noble profession of law enforcement, the profession that I have dedicated the majority of my adult life to, the profession that my great uncle Phil sacrificed his life and paid the ultimate price for.
This moment calls on all of us to come together and repair this social contract so that we as Americans can start to heal. I firmly believe that we are all capable of rising to this challenge, because our own community in Bucks and Montgomery Counties have been a model when it comes to police-community relations. We need to apply our community model, always making improvements based on self-reflection, listening, understanding and learning, and show the rest of our country and the world that we are a country of law and order, a country that respects the rights, dignity, and equality of everyone, a country where police officers are one with the communities in which they serve. We are all members of the human family. I hope my colleagues will join me as we move forward to merge these bills and get a bill signed into law that will rise to this moment.