Democrats proposed a sweeping overhaul of police oversight and procedures Monday, an ambitious legislative response to the mass protests denouncing the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
Before unveiling the package, House and Senate Democrats held a moment of silence at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall, reading the names of George Floyd and others killed during police interactions. They knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — now a symbol of police brutality and violence — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd was pinned under a white police officer’s knee before he died.
“We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, drawing on the nation’s history of slavery.
The Justice in Policing Act would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents and ban police choke holds, among other changes, according to an early draft. It is the most ambitious change to law enforcement sought by Congress in years.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is leading the effort, said called it “bold” and “transformative.”
“The world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in this country,” Bass said.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators nationwide have been protesting in the streets since Floyd was killed May 25 for an end to police violence.
“A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession where you have highly trained officers that are accountable to the public,” Bass said.
The package confronts several aspects of law enforcement accountability and practices that have come under criticism, especially as more and more police violence is captured on cellphone video and shared widely across the nation, and the world.
The proposed legislation would revise the federal criminal police misconduct statute to make it easier to prosecute officers who are involved in misconduct “knowingly or with reckless disregard.”
The package would also change “qualified immunity” protections for police “to enable individuals to recover damages when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights,” it says.
The legislation would seek to provide greater oversight and transparency of police behaviour in several ways. For one, it would grant subpoena power to the Justice Department to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of potential misconduct and help states conduct independent investigations. It would ban racial profiling and boost requirements for police body cameras.