Massachusetts Democrats in the House of Representatives on Thursday applauded the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which calls for sweeping nationwide reforms aimed at addressing generations of systemic racism and disproportionate violence against Black men and women in police custody.
The bill — which follows an uprising of broad support for the Black Lives Matter movement and urgent calls for reform in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer — passed in the House after 8:30 p.m. Thursday following more than five hours of debate.
The bill bars police from using chokeholds; prohibits no-knock warrants in drug cases; requires officers to wear body cameras; enhances transparency on police misconduct; and expands the definition of excessive force, paving the way for victims to file claims against individual officers.
The bill passed 236-181 along party lines. The lack of any Republican support is a sign of challenges the proposal faces in the GOP-controlled Senate, where a separate police reform bill from Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina stalled Wednesday.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley applauded the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus in preparing the House legislation, which she touted as a “critical step forward.”
Speaking on the House floor, Pressley said she rose on behalf of “every Black family that has been robbed of a child ... every family member that has been forced to see their loved one lynched on national television. Driving while Black. Jogging while Black. Sleeping while Black. We have been criminalized for the very way we show up in the world. Under the harsh gaze of far too many, my Black body is seen as a threat, always considered armed.”
“Centuries of institutionalized oppression will not be undone overnight, for racism in America is as structural as the marble pillars of this very institution,” Pressley continued. “With the power of the pen we must legislate accountability, dismantle these systems, and move in the direction of justice and healing.”
Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, proposed incentivizing reform by making federal grants available to police departments that seek higher standards of training certifications. Scott’s bill also calls for data collection on the use of force and a study on no-knock warrants.
An executive order signed by President Donald Trump last week also called for reform incentives in the form of federal grants, and would establish a national database of police conduct that would prevent officers with track records of excessive force from moving from department to department.
Both the House and Senate proposals make lynching a federal crime.
Senate Democrats blocked the Senate bill in a procedural vote on Wednesday, but lawmakers say a deal is likely.
“Their language mirrored the language in the House, but it took out all the teeth,” Rep. Richard Neal said of the Senate proposal in an interview Thursday. “I think you’re likely to have extensive negotiations with the Trump administration and Senate and hopefully a deal.”
Neal, who called Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests “transformative” events, applauded the Democratic proposal’s improved transparency and accountability. He said outlawing chokeholds and the way Floyd was pinned to the ground by officer Derek Chauvin, who now faces a second-degree murder charge, “makes a great deal of sense.”
Neal also said the bill places greater “emphasis on community in terms of community policing, establishes “a lot of new standards and combats racial profiling.”
“The Congressional Black Caucus has pointed out that this is not defunding, it’s reforming police,” Neal added. “Chairperson Karen Bass has done a really nice job on this. She emphasized that point immediately.”
Rep. Jim McGovern said the bill is “all about fixing the broken status quo that has allowed racial injustice and police brutality to continue year after year after year. It’s about damn time.”
“Americans of all backgrounds have been taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers with a single refrain: Black lives matter,” McGovern said during House debate. “People are demanding an end to police brutality. Not encouraging an end to it, not recommending an end to it, but finally demanding an end to it once and for all.”
McGovern added that “no one at all is suggesting that all police officers are racist or break the law.”
“But the sad reality is that if you’re Black in America today, you are three times more likely to be killed by police compared to a white person,” he said. “Yet, it is the exception, not the norm, when officers who commit a crime are brought to justice. There are systemic problems here that require systematic solutions.”
Rep. Joe Kennedy III, in a Twitter video posted before heading into House chambers, called it “an important day” for the House of Representatives.
“This is something that is not partisan,” Kennedy said. “This is something that gets to the heart of what this country proclaims to stand for, and something we can do something about, but haven’t for far, far too long.”
“For too long, our Black neighbors have been brutalized & killed, their bodies criminalized & dreams upended,” Rep. Katherine Clark said in a tweet. “With the #JusticeinPolicing Act, we begin reimagining public safety and we honor all those lost to racism.”
Republicans have argued that Democrats pushed through a partisan bill without genuinely debating Scott’s bill, the Justice Act.
“The American people deserve police reform, but the Democrats have no desire to actually solve this issue before the election,” Scott tweeted Thursday morning. “It is shameful.”
Senate Republicans on Twitter claimed “the bills are nearly identical,” and repeated criticism against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who said earlier this week that the GOP’s reform bill was “trying to get away with murder.”
“They don’t want reform. They want chaos,” the Senate GOP said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California claimed on Thursday that the “goal for many of those people who are looting, rioting and destroying” was breaking “down the rule of law in America” and losing “society as we know it.”
“That’s why — as one nation — we must stand against this kind of behavior,” he said in an interview with Fox Business.
The competing House and Senate packages come as national and statewide polling show broad support for protesters’ calls for reforms in policing. American men and women of almost every race, age group and income level have largely rejected a binary choice between supporting police and calling for policing reforms addressing systemic racism.
In a Suffolk University poll of Massachusetts residents released Wednesday by WGBH, MassLive, The Boston Globe and State House News Service, more than three-quarters of respondents, 76.6%, said police do not treat Black people the same as everyone else. Seventy-five percent of the respondents were white.
An overwhelming majority, nearly 80% of respondents, said Floyd’s killing was not an “isolated incident” but rather “a sign of broader problems in the treatment of Black people by police.”
Original story here.