This piece was originally published in the June 23, 2020 edition of CAP Action’s daily newsletter, the Progress Report. Subscribe to the Progress Report here.
“We have confused having safe communities with hiring more cops.”
— Sen. Kamala Harris
George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Rayshard Brooks. Antwon Rose III. Tony McDade. Eric Garner.
Police brutality is a crisis of massive proportions — and it’s going to require bold solutions.
Watch Kamala Harris and Cory Booker break down the Justice in Policing Act, then share their video on Twitter and Facebook.
WHAT WOULD THE JUSTICE IN POLICING ACT DO?
Create a national database of police misconduct. Months before he fatally shot Antwon Rose III, Michael Rosfeld was fired by the University of Pittsburgh Police Department following misconduct allegations…after which he simply found a different department across the city and became an officer once again. Derek Chauvin had 18 prior complaints filed against him before he killed George Floyd last month. And just this week, we learned that the officer who killed Eric Garner had 7 complaints filed against him prior to Garner’s 2014 death. A national police misconduct database would help alleviate barriers to information sharing and prevent cops like these from jumping from department to department without consequence.
Eliminate qualified immunity. Under the current system, a widely criticized federal legal doctrine prevents individuals from recovering damages in civil court when police officers violate their constitutional rights. By ending qualified immunity, this bill would hold members of law enforcement to the same standard as every other American.
Demilitarize police forces. The federal government participates in a program where surplus military equipment is offered to local police departments for their use. The result? Stories like this one out of Los Angeles, where, until 2014, the city’s massive public school system somehow had grenade launchers and a tank in their possession. This bill would limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.
Ban chokeholds. No human being should ever be subjected to this. The senators’ bill would ban the use of chokeholds at the federal level and condition law enforcement funding for state and local governments on banning chokeholds.
Ban no-knock warrants. Breonna Taylor was shot to death by police as she slept in her own home. How? Louisville Police obtained a no-knock warrant, which gives them the legal authority to enter a home without warning or permission from the resident, and used it to enter Taylor’s house, apparently in search of a suspect in a drug-related offense. We now know that Taylor wasn’t even the intended target of their raid, and the officers weren’t even in the right building, further adding to the ways in which arming police with this type of warrant can go horribly wrong. This bill would ban no-knock warrants for drug cases at the federal level and condition law enforcement funding for state and local governments on banning no-knock warrants.
Make lynching a federal crime. Many have said that the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd were, in effect, lynchings. This might seem like a clear-cut issue, but the standalone bill to make lynching a federal crime has unfortunately faced repeated pushback in the Senate. The Justice in Policing Act would ensure lynching is treated as a federal crime and would also classify conspiracy to commit civil rights offenses, such as hate crimes, as a lynching. You can read more about America’s history of lynching here.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. You can learn more and support the Memorial here.
Require all federal officers to wear body cameras. The bill would also require police cars to have dashboard cameras.
Expand and incentivize independent investigations of police misconduct. At the federal level, the bill gives subpoena power to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. It also supports states in conducting independent investigations into police misconduct by establishing a grant program for state attorneys general to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments.
Polling has shown that Americans overwhelmingly support the provisions outlined in the Justice in Policing Act, with some provisions seeing near-unanimous public support. For more on this, check out Navigator’s polling on the bill.