Democrats propose ambitious bill against police violence in US
Washington, Jun 8 (efe-epa).- Democratic lawmakers on Monday unveiled an ambitious bill designed to reform US police departments, including language to prohibit the tactics that caused the death of George Floyd and which would facilitate lawsuits against officers who unjustly injure or kill people.
The legislation, pushed by African American and progressive lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus, seeks to respond to the overwhelming public indignation that Floyd’s murder has unleashed.
Floyd, an African American whom Minneapolis police were arresting for allegedly trying to make a purchase with a fake $20 bill, died on May 25 when a white officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes after he had been handcuffed and placed face down on the pavement, not changing his position even as Floyd begged and pleaded, saying he could not breathe and eventually losing consciousness and dying before horrified onlookers, some of whom were videotaping the shocking sequence of events with their cellphones.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in hundreds of US cities over the past week or more to protest Floyd’s death, along with other recent examples of police violence and systemic racism against African Americans.
“This moment of national anguish is being transformed into a movement of national action as Americans from across the country peacefully protest to demand an end to injustice. Today, with the justice and policing at the Congress is standing with those fighting for justice and taking action,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in announcing the “Justice in Policing Act” at a press conference along with some 20 congressmen and senators.
The bill would prohibit officers from using chokeholds or other acts to restrain suspects that could cut off their breathing, tactics that many police departments around the country have already banned but which are still used regularly in certain parts of the US.
In addition, the bill would prohibit judges from approving warrants for police drug raids on residences without first knocking and announcing themselves as police. Louisville, Kentucky, officers had burst into an apartment last March and shot innocent African American Breonna Taylor to death, and it ultimately proved that they had come to the wrong apartment anyway.
The bill would also formally state that police tactics that are racially discriminatory are illegal and would require police departments to deliver data to a federal government database on the use of force so that any negligent police conduct can be catalogued and monitored.
Also, the bill would make it easier for victims to sue police departments for civil rights violations.
The bill specifically states that it is not only geared at preventing police abuses in African American communities, but also against Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans, according to the Congressional Black Caucus president, Congresswoman Karen Bass.
However, the bill does not address the demand being made by the Black Lives Matter movement and many progressives who have been demonstrating since Floyd’s death that police departments be “defunded,” that is have their funding severely reduced or eliminated, and those funds invested in local communities.
Although police departments receive a significant amount of federal funding, their main budgetary contributions comes from state and local governments and it is expected that budgetary decisions will be made below the federal level, as the Minneapolis City Council did on Sunday by committing itself to dismantling the city’s police department.
President Donald Trump reacted to the Democratic bill on Twitter, writing: “LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE. The Radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!”
Trump made his comment suggesting that the Democrats want to “defund and abolish” the police even though the bill does not mention the issue of police financing.
Nevertheless, his reaction shows how difficult it will be to translate the bill into law given that the Senate is controlled by the Republicans and, even if the bill were to pass in both the Democratically-controlled House and in the Senate, it would then have to get Trump’s signature to become law.
The president has shown no sympathy whatsoever for the idea of reforming police tactics.
Before unveiling the legislation, about a dozen Democratic lawmakers knelt at the US Capitol for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – the length of time the white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck, killing him – in a sober tribute to all those who have lost their lives to “police brutality” in the US.
Pelosi led the lawmakers – including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – in the gesture, and all of them wore “kente cloths” from Ghana around their necks, multicolored scarf-like garments of cotton or silk that the Congressional Black Caucus has often used to symbolize their work and their African roots.
The tribute began with Pelosi’s reading of the names of Floyd and others who have died in recent years in police custody.