Democrats Unveil Legislation to Bring Sweeping Changes to US Law Enforcement

June 8, 2020 Updated: June 9, 2020

A bicameral group of Democrats introduced legislation that aims to increase transparency and accountability in law enforcement nationwide. The bill was crafted in response to nationwide protests held after the death of George Floyd.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) praised protesters, saying: “This large, diverse group, so many of them young, gives us hope that Americans are prepared to march and fight to make this a more perfect union, once and for all. And so today, we are taking the first of many steps.”

The Justice in Policing Act, mostly designed by the Congressional Black Caucus, intends to address the use of excessive force by police, specifically in black and minority communities.

“We just announced the first ever comprehensive police accountability and reform bill to: – Create a national standard for use of force – Expand pattern and practice investigations into police departments – Increase independent investigations into police misconduct,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) wrote on Twitter on June 8.

Lawmakers say the package intends to remove barriers to prosecuting police misconduct by addressing the qualified immunity doctrine and would “demilitarize the police” by limiting the transfer of military weaponry to state and local police departments.

It aims to combat police brutality by requiring body and dashboard cameras, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants for drug cases, and create a national database disclosing the names of officers with patterns of abuse.

It also includes a bill passed by the House earlier this year that would make lynching a federal hate crime.

After Democrats kneeled in the Emancipation Hall at the Capitol Visitors Center for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence (the duration of time a police officer kept a knee on George Floyd’s neck), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and other Democrats unveiled the package.

“Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets in Minneapolis, the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer,” said Bass. “The world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in our country. This movement has now spread to many nations around the world with thousands marching to register their horror and hearing the cry: ‘I can’t breathe.’”

Democrats are united in reforming police practices that they say disproportionately affect African Americans.

“This is a moral moment in the history of our country and we must answer it with action. There is an urgent need for comprehensive reforms to our system of policing—that’s what our Justice in Policing Act will get done. The time for change is now,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wrote on Facebook.

Democratic Party leaders described the criminal justice and police systems as being rooted in hundreds of years of slavery, bigotry, and cultural bias.

“We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change,” said Pelosi, surrounded by Democratic leaders and Black Caucus members.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) told “Fox and Friends” on June 8: “As far as the Democrat package, they haven’t been talking to Republicans about this, so I’m not sure what they’re going to be rolling out. But clearly, if somebody abuses their power, in any position of law enforcement, there needs to be accountability.”

Attorney General William Barr on June 7 disagreed with Democrats that the nation’s law enforcement system suffers from systemic racism.

“I think there’s racism in the United States still but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist. I understand the distrust, however, of the African American community given the history in this country. I think we have to recognize that for most of our history, our institutions were explicitly racist. Since the 1960s, I think we’ve been in a phase of reforming our institutions and making sure that they’re in sync with our laws and aren’t fighting a rearguard action to impose inequities,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

President Donald Trump has been vocal about supporting and fully funding law enforcement. He also called for immediate justice for Floyd with the prosecution of the police officers involved in Floyd’s death.