House passes sweeping ‘police reform’ named after George Floyd – but will it pass the Senate?

George Floyd

(TriceEdneyWire.com) –– Only those with the hardest of hearts will ever forget the dying words of George Floyd, a Black man who gasped, “I can’t breathe!” as a White Minneapolis police officer literally choked him to death.

The horrific incident, which was captured in video, set off a season of protests across the United States and the globe and a national reckoning of the racial and criminal injustice that have plagued African Americans for generations.

In a late-night session on March 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, largely along party lines and with just one vote by a Republican, Texas Rep. Lance Gooden, who later said in a since-deleted tweet that it was an accident and he had pressed the wrong button.

This landmark, wide-ranging police reform legislation has received broad support from a wide variety of civil rights organizations, including: the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; the NAACP; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; the National Urban League; the National Action Network; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and several other civil and human rights groups.

“Never again should an unarmed individual be murdered or brutalized by someone who is supposed to serve and protect them,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who authored the bill, said in a statement. “Never again should the world be subject to witnessing what we saw happen to George Floyd in the streets in Minnesota.”

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis, Minn. officer responsible for Floyd’s death, was fired and will soon be tried on a third-degree murder charge. Jury selection began this week. The bill, which must be signed by President Biden before it becomes law, aims to end racial profiling, change the culture of the nation’s police departments, build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve—and save lives.

The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by the President, would:

  • Prohibit federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling;
  • Mandate training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement;
  • Require law enforcement to collect data on all investigatory activities;
  • Ban chokeholds and carotid holds at the federal level and conditions law enforcement funding for state and local governments banning chokeholds;
  • Ban no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level and conditions law enforcement funding for state and local governments banning no-knock warrants at the local and state level;
  • Require that deadly force be used only as a last resort and requires officers to employ de-escalation techniques first (changes 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 requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras;
  • Require marked federal police vehicles to have dashboard cameras;
  • Make it easier to prosecute offending officers by amending the federal criminal statute to prosecute police misconduct (the requirement in 18 U.S.C. Section 242 will be amended from ‘willfulness’ to a ‘recklessness’ standard);
  • Enable individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement.

The Justice in Policing Act also establishes public safety innovation grants that community-based organizations can use to create local commissions and task forces to develop equitable public safety approaches, much like former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. In addition, it requires the creation of law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations.

“This represents a major step forward to reform the relationship between police officers and communities of color and impose accountability on law enforcement officers whose conscious decisions preserve the life or cause the death of Americans, including so many people of color,” said civil rights attorneys, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, on behalf of the Floyd family in a statement.

Civil rights leaders are ecstatic over the bill’s passage but may soon find they will have to temper both their enthusiasm and expectations. The House passed a similar bill last year, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell buried it in what came to be referred to as his ‘legislative graveyard.’

In a CNN interview last week, Bass said that she has been in talks with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) for several weeks, and current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will likely put some version of the bill on the floor for consideration and a vote.

But first, obstacles will have to be overcome. Although Democrats now control the Senate, with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, some Democrats may require some convincing and 10 Republican votes also will be needed for passage.

Senate Republicans have claimed that the House bill puts police officers in danger and makes communities less safe. They also object to the provision that eliminates qualified immunity and prosecutorial standards, the major sticking point that they believe would subject law enforcement officers to excessive litigation. But Democrats argue it is needed to hold police accountable for unnecessary use of deadly force.

“That’s a red line for me,” Scott told the Associated Press. “Hopefully we’ll come up with something that actually works.”

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