Police Reform Bills Sweep the Nation in Wake of Protests
Two weeks of non-stop Black Lives Matter protests across the United States are starting to yield results. Protesters are demanding massive change, including defunding police forces entirely. While most localities are not willing to go that far, police reform bills are being proposed at nearly every level of governance. In cities, on the state level, and even in Congress, limits on police power are being put in place.
Minneapolis Moves to Defund Police
Minneapolis city council voted with a veto-proof majority to disband the current city police force and replace it with a community-led model for public safety. On Friday, the council unanimously passed a resolution following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the city’s police officers. The council’s actions are in conflict with mayor Jacob Frey who supports “massive structural reform to revise a structurally racist system,” but does not support full abolition.
The council has stated that they will be engaging in a year-long process to collect research and community input into the new system. In response to concerns on who will respond to crime during this process, Councilwoman Alondra Cano stated, “We know that this change won’t happen overnight and likely we’ll have sort of two systems up and running at the same time until we can finally get to a point of not having to rely on the other for immediate high violent crimes or other issues that people might typically want a police officer to respond to.”
According to Cano, council members from cities across the country have been reaching out to Minneapolis, looking to replicate what they have done.
Congress Moves on Police Reform Bills
This week, Democrats passed a sweeping police reform bills in the House of Representatives. The bill contains some of the most aggressive police accountability measures in modern history including requiring body cameras on all uniformed officers, ending qualified immunity, and making it easier to track and prosecute misconduct.
The bill, titled the Justice in Policing Act, was introduced by Representative Karen Bass of California, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, and joined by Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California.
The bill would also limit uses of force in certain circumstances, such as banning no-knock warrants in drug cases and banning choke-holds at the federal level.
Critics of the bill have said it does not go far enough, however, in reforming the culture that leads to excessive police brutality. For example, critics point out that chokeholds were already banned in the NYPD at the time of Eric Garner’s death in 2014.
The bill makes no attempt to “defund the police” as activists have been calling for.
It’s unclear how much of the Democrats’ bill will make it through the Senate, though. The Republican-led Senate is considering their own police reform efforts, though. There has been rare bipartisan agreement that George Floyd’s death was wrong, and that something should be done. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California agrees that there are some provisions of the Justice in Policing Act that Republicans could get behind, like the ban on chokeholds.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnel tapped the only black Senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina, to lead the GOP police reform efforts.
“I think the best way for the Senate Republicans to go forward on this is to listen to one of our own, who’s had these experiences. He’s had them since he’s been in the United States Senate,” McConnell said of Scott on Tuesday.
Other Senators, like libertarian Republican Rand Paul, have introduced their own measures. Paul’s bill, named for Breonna Taylor, would limit the use of no-known warrants.
States Pass And Cities Their Own Reform Laws
Some states and cities are not interested in waiting for action from the Federal government. New York and Colorado are among states which have passed reform bills in the past week, and cities including San Francisco, CA, and Louisville, KY, have also taken steps to reform or reduce funding for the police.
New York State passed the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, which criminalizes the use of chokeholds which result in injury or death. The bill is named after Eric Garner, killed by a chokehold in New York City in 2014, where the action was already illegal. Officers who violate the law may be charged with a class C Felony and face up to 15 years in prison.
On Saturday, Colorado passed one of the most comprehensive reform bills in the nation. The bill, which Governor Jared Polis said he will sign, includes a ban on chokeholds, limits on when police may shoot a fleeing suspect, and makes it a criminal offense for officers to not intervene in instances of excessive force.
The bill also includes accountability measures, like requiring all officers to wear body cameras, requiring precincts to release that footage, and mandating data collection so abusive officers do not precinct-hop. The bill also allows officers to be held personally liable for violations of civil rights.
Iowa passed a similar, though less thorough, bill on Thursday. That law bans chokeholds in most cases, increases accountability for police misconduct, and increases training for all officers in the state.
In San Francisco, police are being required to cut tens of millions of dollars from their annual budget, and in Louisville, Kentucky, no-knock warrants have been banned in honor of Breonna Taylor. Taylor was killed by police during the serving of a no-knock warrant at the wrong home in March of this year. The officers who killed her have not been arrested.