Democrats propose sweeping police overhaul.
WASHINGTON — Democrats proposed a far-reaching overhaul of police procedures and accountability on Monday, a sweeping legislative response to the mass protests denouncing the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
The political outlook is deeply uncertain for the legislation in an especially polarized election year. President Donald Trump is staking out a tough “law and order” approach in the face of the outpouring of demonstrations and demands to reimagine policing in America.
“We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change,” said House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi, D-Calif., citing the nation’s history of slavery.
Before unveiling the package, House and Senate Democrats held a moment of silence at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall, reading the names of George Floyd and many others killed during interactions with police. They knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — now a symbol of police brutality and violence — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd was pinned under a white police officer’s knee before he died.
Trump, who met with law enforcement officials at the White House, characterized Democrats as having “gone CRAZY!”
As activists call for restructuring police departments and even to “defund the police,” the president tweeted, “LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE.” He declared later, “We won’t be dismantling our police.”
Democratic leaders pushed back, saying their proposal would not eliminate police departments — a decision for cities and states — but establish new standards and oversight.
The Justice in Policing Act, the most
ambitious law enforcement reforms from Congress in years, confronts several aspects of policing that have come under strong criticism, especially as more and more police violence is captured on cellphone video and shared widely across the nation and the world.
The package would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessiveforce incidents and ban police chokeholds, among other changes.
It would revise the federal criminal police misconduct statute to make it easier to prosecute officers who are involved in “reckless” misconduct and would change “qualified immunity” protections to more broadly enable damage claims against police in lawsuits.
The legislation would ban racial profiling, boost requirements for police body cameras and limit the transfer of military equipment to local jurisdictions.
Overall, the bill seeks to provide greater transparency of police behavior in several ways. For one, it would grant subpoena power to the Justice Department to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of potential misconduct and help states conduct independent investigations.
And it would create a “National
Police Misconduct Registry,” a database to try to prevent officers from transferring from one department to another with past misconduct undetected, the draft says. A long-sought federal anti-lynching bill is included.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a co-author with Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Democratic senators, will hold a hearing on the legislation Wednesday.
“The world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in this country,” said Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is leading the House effort.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose Louisville
hometown faces unrest after the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in her home, said he would take a look at potential Senate legislation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said his panel plans a hearing to review use of force and other issues. And Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has said he would like to review the Democrats’ package.
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who marched in support of Floyd in Houston, wrote an op-ed Monday about how his own black father instructed him as a teen driver to respond if he was pulled over by the police. Hurd offered his own proposals for changes in police practices.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (center left) and other members of Congress knelt to observe a moment of silence at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall on Monday.