June 16, 2020

ICYMI: On Senate Floor, Gillibrand Urges Congress To Pass The Justice In Policing Act

Legislation Proposes Sweeping Police Reform Amidst Nationwide Protests On Police Brutality

Floor Speech 6.16.20

**WATCH Senator Gillibrand’s Speech on the Senate Floor HERE**

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today spoke on the Senate floor to urge her colleagues to pass the Justice in Policing Act amidst nationwide protests calling for actions to address systemic racism and police brutality. The legislation proposes sweeping reforms to hold police accountable for misconduct, improve transparency, establish lynching as a federal crime, ban chokeholds, and enact other essential police reform measures. In light of the tragic deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Andrew Kearse, RayshardBrooks, and countless others at the hands of police, this bicameral legislation was introduced by Senators Booker and Harris, House Democratic Leadership, and the Congressional Black Caucus to create a strong police accountability framework.

Below are Senator Gillibrand’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Senator Gillibrand: Madam President, I rise to speak about the overwhelming and urgent need to reform the way our country approaches policing.

The deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Andrew Kearse, and countless others are deeply disturbing, and most unfortunately, nothing new. The truth is that for every name we know, there are countless more we don’t. This type of oppression and brutality has been part of Black Americans’ lives for far too long.

It should not happen, and in the horrific instances when it does, it should not take a viral video and a nationwide protest to get some measure of justice.

We are at a moment of moral reckoning in this country and we must take action. Our country needs bold reforms to address the systemic and institutional racism that plagues our criminal justice system. The Justice in Policing Act of 2020, introduced by my colleagues Senators Booker and Harris, would make crucial, and much-needed changes to address our nation’s policing practices and policies. We should pass this bill as soon as possible.

We were sadly reminded of the urgency of this legislation on Friday, when Rayshard Brooks was shot in the back by police in Atlanta.

It is clear we don’t have time to waste. Lives are on the line today. We need reform now. We need accountability - and we need it to happen now. 

The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 would ban the no-knock warrant police used to enter Breonna Taylor’s apartment before killing her. It would prevent unnecessary deaths like Rayshard Brooks’ by requiring that officers use de-escalation techniques and resort to deadly force only as the last resort. It also includes a provision that I worked on with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries – the Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act. It would ban the types of chokeholds and carotid holds that killed George Floyd and Eric Garner by making the use of these dangerous maneuvers a federal civil rights violation. 

Black Americans are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans, despite accounting for less than 13 percent of the population. This legislation would not only end racial and religious profiling, but it would mandate training on racial bias and on officers’ duty to intervene.

This bill would also improve accountability by requiring federal uniformed police officers to wear body cameras and requiring state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funding to ensure their officers use body cameras as well. 

Too often after these unthinkable incidents of brutality, we learn that law enforcement officers responsible had a history of misconduct. This bill would collect better and more accurate data on police misconduct and use-of-force and create a national registry that would track officers’ complaint records throughout their careers. And, it would improve the use of pattern and practice investigations into unconstitutional and discriminatory policing practices at the federal, state, and local levels. 

The fact is that 99% of killings by police do not result in any charges. Convictions on those charges are even rarer. This bill would amend the federal criminal statute that has made it extremely difficult to prosecute law enforcement officers.  

Finally, the bill would take the long overdue step of making lynching a federal crime. After the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, it is clear that this problem must be addressed. 

We can never bring back those who we’ve lost in these horrific killings, or even begin to make their families whole again, but we can – and must – take steps toward making sure that these tragedies never happen again. An executive order that merely restates the law that Congress passed in 1994 is clearly not enough.

Establishing justice is at the heart of the preamble of our Constitution, and we must deliver on that promise that we made as a nation. We must match the efforts of those working to change the system from the outside, with the efforts of those changing the system from the inside – with efforts to change it for good. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and this bill will ensure that we start on the right foot. 

I would like to read a passage of scripture that informs me on this issue. Matthew 25 Verse 44:

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” 

Madam President, we have a moral obligation. We have an obligation given our shared commitment to upholding the Constitution. We have a moral responsibility to not let this moment pass. Who are we? What defines us? What kind of people are we? If we refuse to act now, when the country is raging - rightfully so, we decline to do what is right.

I yield the floor.