Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand highlighted a bicameral plan to hold police accountable for misconduct, address systemic racism in police practices, improve transparency, make lynching a federal crime, and institute other police reform measures. Following Gillibrand’s introduction of the Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act — the Senate companion to Representative Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-NY) legislation that was introduced following the death of Eric Garner in 2014 — the bicameral policing reform package includes a provision to ban chokeholds and make the use of maneuvers that restrict oxygen intake or blood flow to the brain by law enforcement a federal civil rights violation. The push comes as people across the nation and globe protest police brutality and institutional racism, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, was subdued by four officers, including one who knelt on his neck for nine minutes as he repeated, “I can’t breathe.”
“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others are deeply disturbing, and have brought our country to a moment of moral reckoning. We cannot allow for this systemic racism and brutality to continue — we must act,” said Senator Gillibrand. “While we cannot repair the damage done by these horrific killings, this legislation would make crucial, and much-needed changes to our nation’s policing practices and policies. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation led by my dear friends, Senators Booker and Harris. I will use my voice to support calls for policing reform and accountability, and I will continue fighting alongside my colleagues in Congress to put an end to these tragedies.”
Recent deaths of unarmed black Americans at the hands of police — including Breonna Taylor, who was murdered by an officer in Louisville, KY on an incorrect no-knock warrant, George Floyd, and countless others — have sparked nationwide and global protests against police brutality and institutional racism. According to the Washington Post’s Deadly Force Database, police have shot and killed more than 1,000 people in the United States over the past year. While black Americans account for less than 13% of the U.S. population, reports show they are killed by police more than twice as often as white Americans. The overwhelming majority of police officers involved in civilian deaths have not been charged or convicted of a crime.
The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 proposes sweeping reforms to policing in America to address systemic issues and lack of accountability. The bicameral legislation, which was introduced by Senators Booker and Harris, House Democratic Leadership, and the Congressional Black Caucus, would create a strong police accountability framework by redefining police misconduct, prohibiting no knock warrants in drug cases, making the use of chokeholds a federal civil rights violation, and addressing militarization of the police force. Specifically, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 would:
- Hold police accountable in our courts:
- Make it easier to prosecute police misconduct at the federal level by changing the federal criminal statute from a “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard
- Reform qualified immunity so that individuals are able to recover damages when police violate their constitutional rights;
- Improve the use of pattern and practice investigations into agencies who use discriminatory and unconstitutional policing practices, and independent investigations at the federal level
- Provide new federal funds to State AGs to conduct pattern and practice investigations and to establish independent investigative bodies for police involved deaths
- Improve transparency in policing:
- Create a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problem-officers from changing jurisdictions to avoid accountability; and
- Require state and local law enforcement agencies report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, age.
- Improve police training and practices:
- End racial and religious profiling, and mandates training on racial bias and the duty to intervene;
- Ban no-knock warrants in drug cases;
- Ban chokeholds and carotid artery holds through federal funding requirements and designates these maneuvers as a federal civil rights violation;
- Change the standard to evaluate whether law enforcement use of force was justified from whether the force was reasonable to whether the force was necessary;
- Limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement;
- Require federal uniformed police officers to wear body cameras; and
- Require state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
- Establish lynching as a federal crime to conspire to violate existing federal hate crimes laws.
The legislation has been endorsed by leading civil rights organizations including the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, Black Women’s Roundtable, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Urban League, and National Action Network.
Full text of the legislation can be found here.