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What’s in the Justice in Policing Act?

Congressional Democrats on Monday unveiled a proposal for sweeping policing reforms dubbed the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. The legislation comes as Americans in all 50 states have gathered to protest police brutality and systemic racism in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis last month after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. 

That now-former officer, Derrick Chauvin, has been charged with second degree murder. Three other officers involved in Floyd’s detainment — Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who helped restrain Floyd, and Tou Thao, who stood nearby — are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Now, lawmakers on Capitol Hill, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, are hoping the demonstrations happening on the streets will yield changes to the law. The bill as it stands would ban police departments from using chokeholds, develop a national standard for use of force, limit the transfer of military weapons to police departments, define lynching as a federal hate crime, establish a national police misconduct registry, and limit qualified immunity, which protects officers from lawsuits over alleged misconduct. 

The sweeping reform bill is broken up into several sections and includes a number of provisions that would change the way policing works in America. Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

What would the Justice in Policing Act do?

The first section of the bill deals with police accountability. It seeks to change the qualified immunity doctrine, which currently prevents people from recovering damages when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights. The law would also provide grants to state attorneys general to conduct pattern and practice investigations  and to create independent investigations processes for law enforcement misconduct or excessive use of force. 

Lawmakers also want to implement more uniform standards for best practices and community accountability by taking steps like requiring the attorney general to create law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations. The bill would also require attorneys general to collect data on a number of police interactions including investigatory actions and detentions by federal law enforcement agencies, the racial distribution of drug charges, use of deadly force by and against law enforcement officers, and traffic and pedestrian stops and detentions.

The second section of the bill deals with what lawmakers call policing transparency through data. It would create a federal registry of all federal, state and local law enforcement officers that would include misconduct complaints, discipline records, and termination records. The bill would also require states to report to the Justice Department any incident in which force is used against a civilian or against a law enforcement officer.

The third section of the bill focuses on improving police training and policies. The law would mandate officers receive training on racial, religious and discriminatory profiling. It would also require law enforcement agencies collect data on all investigatory activities and submit that data to the Justice Department. 

The bill seeks to ban the use of chokeholds and change the use of force standard for federal officers from reasonableness to only when necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury. The bill would also limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement, require federal uniformed police officers to wear body cameras, and mandate all marked federal police vehicles have dashboard cameras. 

The fourth section of the bill would make it a federal crime to conspire to violate existing hate crimes laws, and would make lynching a federal hate crime. 

READ MORE: Full text of Democrats’ ‘Justice in Policing Act’

Who supports the bill?

Democrats in both the House and Senate are leading the effort to enact reform, with chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Karen Bass as well as Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee also steering the reform. There are more than 200 co-sponsors for the bill in the House of Representatives and more than 36 co-sponsors in the Senate, all of whom are Democrats. 

It is unclear whether any Republican lawmakers will support the bill. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who marched with protesters in Washington, D.C. last week, didn’t throw his support behind the bill. “The fact that it has no Republican sponsors, the fact that there was no effort to contact any of us, to have us weigh in on the legislation, suggests it’s designed to be a bit of a message piece, as opposed to a real piece of legislation,” Romney said Monday.

READ MORE: ‘The whole police system needs to be rebooted.’ How some cities are starting to tackle reform

The White House is working on a separate proposal on policing reform but has not yet put forth a plan. Among those leading efforts on the initiative are Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior advisor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the Senate.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which is the largest law enforcement labor organization in the United States with more than 351,000 members, said this week that they had completed “an initial review” of the Democrats’ bill.

“We were heartened to see that there were provisions in the bill that we believe, after good faith discussions, will create a law that will have a positive impact on law enforcement and policing in our country,” the group said in a statement. “We share the sentiments of Congress and the public we are sworn to protect with respect to policing reform.”

Why now?

The proposed legislation comes at a moment of national reckoning on race. Protesters have taken to the streets in all 50 states to demand change in policing as it relates to systemic racism and bias against black people. 

“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,” Bass said.  “What we are witnessing is the birth of a new movement in our country with thousands coming together in every state marching to demand a change that ends police brutality, holds police officers accountable, and calls for transparency. For over 100 years, Black communities in America have sadly been marching against police abuse and calling for the police to protect and serve them as they do others.”

The bill also comes amid calls to defund the police. Some activists are pushing for dismantling police departments and replacing them with public safety organizations. Others want to have police departments’ budgets reduced and that money invested in other areas like education, housing and community initiatives. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this bill does not defund the police and that instead she and others are pushing for sweeping changes in policing through departments. “The martyrdom of George Floyd gave the American experience a moment of national anguish as we grieve for the black Americans killed by police brutality today,” she said. “Police brutality is a heartbreaking reflection of an entrenched system of racial injustice in America. True justice can only be achieved with full, comprehensive action.”

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