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'A Strong Step Forward': Following House Passage, Civil Rights Advocates Urge Senate to Pass Democrats' Justice in Policing Act

The bill passed in the House Thursday night, with three Republicans joining the Democrats to support the legislation.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) speaks as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats gather for a press event on the House steps ahead of the vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 on Thursday, June 25, 2020. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Civil rights advocates on Friday called on the U.S. Senate to promptly approve the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the policing reform legislation which was passed in a bipartisan vote in the House Thursday evening one month after George Floyd was killed by four Minneapolis police officers.

The bill was passed with a vote of 236-181, with three Republicans joining the House Democrats to support the legislation: Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Will Hurd of Texas, and Fred Upton of Michigan.

The legislation:

  • prohibits federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious and discriminatory profiling;
  • bans chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level;
  • limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement;
  • establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave an agency from moving to another jurisdiction, as thousands have in the past decade; and 
  • restricts qualified immunity so that individuals are not barred from recovering damages when police violate their constitutional rights.

The bill would also redirect existing law enforcement funds to "transformative, community-based policing programs" that would "help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just, and equitable public safety approaches," according to the House Democrats. 

Family members of some black Americans killed by police officers in recent years—including Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner; Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice; and John Crawford, Jr., the father of John Crawford III—endorsed the legislation, calling it a "strong step forward in the right direction."

"The unjust killing of a loved one, especially at the hands of law enforcement, is a pain too many families have been forced to endure," they said in a statement. "We are proud to support this effort because it's the right thing to do... This bill will hold officers accountable to the communities they serve and compel them to have a guardian mentality, not a warrior mentality."

The bill does not go as far as redirecting policing funds to communities by investing in education, public health, and social services, as some progressives including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have called for.

Advocacy group Bend the Arc: Jewish Action rebuked Democrats for not completely eliminating qualified immunity and the transfer of military equipment to police departments.

"In the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis, it’s not enough to reduce the scope and size of policing—legislation should increase spending on education, housing, and health and human services that meet widely and deeply felt community needs," said Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, Washington Director of the organization.

But the legislation goes much further than the police reform bill offered by Senate Republicans, which includes little focus on mandating reforms at the federal level.

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The GOP bill and President Donald Trump's executive order on policing, introduced earlier this month, do not end or amend qualified immunity for officers, ban chokeholds for federal law enforcement officers or subject state and local officers to federal prosecution for using them, or require deadly force to be used only as a last resort.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who co-sponsored the bill, called on the Senate Republicans to put partisanship aside and approve the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act immediately.

"The House has done its job today but that is not the end of the story," Nadler said. "This is not the time for half measures. This is not the time for further study. This is not the time for fake reform. If our Republican colleagues truly want to pass bold comprehensive legislation that will change the culture of policing and hold officers accountable, we welcome them to the table. But we will not accept anything less."

Advocacy group Common Cause called on the Senate to "strengthen" the legislation and "set a standard for justice, policing, and safety in America," demanding that lawmakers hear the calls of Americans who have joined anti-police brutality protests across the country over the past month.

"The people-led protests across the nation are a reflection of the pain felt by many, a response to the failure of America to reckon with its racist history, and a demand for an end to state-sanctioned violence against Black people," said Keshia Morris Desir, the group's Census and Mass Incarceration Project Manager. "The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 is an important step in rooting out systemic racism in law enforcement and we commend the House for passing the legislation. More will need to be done, but we must first take this first important step to addressing a national disgrace."

The NAACP, which endorsed the legislation, agreed that the bill is only a first step, but echoed Desir's call.

"This legislation represents the only way forward. If we've learned anything from these past weeks, it's that the American people are demanding systemic change. We need bold, transformative action to rethink policing and reimagine public safety in our communities," said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the organization. 

"Congress must seize this extraordinary moment in time to push for the elimination of racism in policing and in the criminal justice system writ large, and to rid our society of the structural inequality that has tormented and held back our nation for far too long," he added.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who introduced the bill along with House co-sponsors on June 8, demanded that their Republican colleagues join "the fight to honor [the] lives" of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other black Americans who have been killed by police, and acknowledged that "the fight continues."

"These are just a handful of solutions...that will move us forward to being a more just and equal society," Booker said.

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