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Just one month after George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police sparked worldwide protests, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping police reform bill.
In a bipartisan vote of 236-181, the Democratic-dubbed “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” would be a historic step toward overhauling policing in the U.S., where the recent high-profile killings of three Black people has sparked a racial reckoning and an ongoing protest movement. Introduced by the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the bill passed unusually quickly despite the hurdles presented by the pandemic.
While it has zero chances of making it past the Republican Senate, it’s a look at how the Democratic Party envisions the future of policing. Proposals include increased federal oversight of police transparency, accountability for police misconduct, and measures to stamp out the discriminatory practices in U.S. law enforcement.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest reforms proposed in the bill.
Liability and Immunity Reform
Democrats want to reassess how police whose use of deadly force result in injury or death are able to defend their actions in court. Prosecutors would no longer have to prove that an officer’s misconduct was done “willfully.” They instead would only have to prove that the officer “knowingly” or “recklessly” used dangerous or deadly force.
The bill also wants to reform qualified immunity protections, which shields police officials from being held liable for constitutional violation and is often used to justify unethical police actions. As Congressman Joe Neguse explained, overhauling these protections would allow victims of police brutality to more easily claim monetary damages police violate their constitutional rights.
Banning the “no-knock” warrant
The no-knock warrant has received overwhelming criticism in the last month. The document, which authorizes police to barge into a home or building where they believe a suspect to be located without knocking or announcing their presence, was one of the factors that contributed to numerous police-involved deaths of Black people. Most recently, the execution of a no-knock warrant led to the death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor as she slept in her home in Louisville, Kentucky.
Though many states, including Kentucky, have already taken action to ban no-knock warrants, the House wants to incentivize it on a federal level by taking it a step further. If passed the bill would effectively withhold crucial federal funds from states and police departments that don’t outright ban the use of the potentially fatal warrant.
Before the 2014 death of Eric Garner in New York City, the use of the chokehold as a means of subduing a suspect was not nearly as controversial. Six years later, however, Democrats want to do away with the deadly maneuver altogether.
The bill would ban the use of chokeholds and carotid holds like the ones that killed Garner. States like New York and California, as well as cities like Dallas, Denver, and Minneapolis, have already passed legislation to ban chokeholds. But like no-knock warrants, the House wants to enforce the ban federally by withholding funds from states and police departments that refuse to comply with the new law.
Retraining and doing away with deadly force
One of the biggest demands from the millions of protesters around the world is the complete overhaul of police training. The House bill addresses this call for reform directly.
In a section House Democrats are calling the “Police Exercising Absolute Care With Everyone Act of 2020” or “PEACE Act,” the bill wants to prohibit the use of deadly force, and instead encourage the use of “reasonable alternatives.”
These alternatives include the use of verbal communication, non-deadly warnings, creating distance between themselves and the suspect, tactical repositioning, and other de-escalation tactics and techniques. Only when these options have been exhausted and the suspect is an immediate threat to another citizen or officer, would the police be allowed to use potentially lethal force.
The bill would also mandate racial-bias training for all departments and withhold funding from states and local authorities that refuse to take part.
Monitoring the police
One of the few points of police reform that Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on is how the country will keep track of “bad apples” in the country’s police force.
“Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall establish a National Police Misconduct Registry to be compiled and maintained by the Department of Justice,” the bill says.
In order to build this massive database, the federal government would require the heads of all law enforcement agencies in the country to submit cop disciplinary records, noted uses of force and racial profiling, filed complaints pending review, lawsuits and terminations to the Justice Department every six months.
The registry would be made available to the public, preventing problematic officers from effectively starting over with a clean slate by transferring to another police department.
Cover: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., joined by House Democrats spaced for social distancing, speaks during a news conference on the House East Front Steps on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 25, 2020, ahead of the House vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)