Washington, DC — House and Senate Democrats proposed a police reform bill on Monday, hoping to utilize growing nationwide protests over racial injustice and police misconduct into legal and legislative changes that could make it easier to prosecute and sue police officers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top Democrats, knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to honor George Floyd before presenting the legislation at a news conference.
We kneel. pic.twitter.com/kiTgvMH6nS
— Congressmember Bass (@RepKarenBass) June 8, 2020
Those kneeling in solidarity did not mention the police officers who lost their lives serving and protecting the constitutional rights of the American citizens people “to peaceably to assemble.”
Speaker Pelosi said, “The martyrdom of George Floyd gave American experience a moment of national anguish as we grieve for African Americans killed by police brutality, being transformed into a moment of national action.” She added “We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change.”
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker agreed and welcomed the protests building in cities and towns around the country, but also stressed that concrete action was necessary. “Empathy and sympathy and words of caring for those who have died and suffered is necessary but not enough. We must change laws and systems of accountability,” Booker said.
The bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), who is also being discussed as a potential vice presidential pick to newly named Democratic nominee Joe Biden, said all Americans would benefit from police reform.
The junior senator from California said, “We are here because black Americans want to stop being killed.” Even so, she added, “reforming policing is in the best interest of all Americans.”
The Justice in Policing Act would drastically change the definition of criminal misconduct for police, so instead of “willfully” violating constitutional rights, an officer could be charged after doing so with knowing or reckless disregard. It would also curtail “qualified immunity” that broadly shields police officers from being held liable for damages for rights violations in civil lawsuits.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) hasn’t ruled out Republican backing for some type of police reform legislation. The bill faces an unclear path through the Republican Senate or the White House. The GOP has resisted some proposals in the past.
“It’s something we need to take a look at. There may be a role for Congress to play in this as well. We’ll be talking to our colleagues about what, if anything, is appropriate to do,” McConnell said last week.
Yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Attorney General Bill Barr said he opposes efforts to make it easier to sue police, arguing it would result in “police pulling back.”
President Trump has seized on calls by some protesters to cut funding for police in order to attack Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The president will hold a roundtable with law enforcement later today.