House Democrats sought to remake America’s police departments in their image Thursday as they passed legislation that has little chance of getting through the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in floor speech before the vote that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act “will fundamentally transform the culture of policing to address systemic racism, curb police brutality and save lives, as it puts an end to shielding police from accountability.”
“Exactly one month ago, George Floyd spoke his final words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ and changed the course of history,” Pelosi said, according to a transcript on her website. “The House is honoring his life and the lives of all killed by police brutality by saying never again and taking action.”
The bill would ban chokeholds and drug-related no-knock warrants for all federal law enforcement agencies and effectively strong-arm state and local governments into doing the same by tying federal funding to the prohibition of those practices.
It also would create a national police abuse registry and make procedural changes to allow more prosecutions and lawsuits aimed at individual officers in cases where misconduct has been alleged.
The bill passed 236-181, with all Democrats on board as well as three Republicans — Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, Fred Upton of Michigan and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
The legislation now goes to the Senate, where Republicans, who hold the majority in the upper chamber, have been seeking passage of a bill proposed by Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, and where the House-passed bill has little chance of being adopted.
Even if it does clear the Senate, the Democratic bill faces a veto threat from the White House.
Senate Republicans and House Democrats both call for more training and education for police officers, as well as greater use of body cameras, and make lynching a federal crime.
But Scott’s proposal is being rejected by Democrats who say it is not stern enough on local police agencies.
Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina told The Hill that Scott’s proposal is “a recommendation to local law enforcement. And we’re past the time for recommendations.”
Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California, who heads the Congressional Black Caucus, said protesters in American cities deserve to be heard.
“With all of those people out protesting, this is not the time to do symbolism. We have to do substantive change,” she said.
Other Democrats said the bill was needed to atone for perceived racial injustice.
“We have a national problem of police brutality. … It requires a national solution,” Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York said, according to The Washington Post. “Here in America, every black mother and every black father has to have the talk with their child about what to do when approached by police. Any encounter can turn deadly, not because of criminal conduct but because of the color of their skin.”
“With the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others, there was no doubt in my mind — or that of most Americans — that we needed to act,” Democratic Rep. Max Rose of New York said in a statement.
“Once again, we saw that black Americans, and other communities of color, are not equal in the eyes of too many criminal justice systems around the country. This bill has the potential to change that.”
Republicans said the bill went too far.
Most police officers are “good, honest people trying to help our community” Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona said, urging Democrats not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Democrats “don’t want to talk about it when white people are killed,” Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin said.
“What’s going to happen when we have a timid, neutered police force?” he added.
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