After a week of historic nationwide protests triggered by the police killing of George Floyd and countless others, Joe BidenJoe BidenCDC working to tighten testing requirement for international travelers On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan MORE has called upon Congress to pass a series of desperately needed policing reforms, including a ban on chokeholds, federal standards for use of force, and the demilitarization of local police departments – something for which I have advocated for years.
He has set the bold and ambitious goal of passing such reforms in the next month, saying: “A down payment on what is long overdue should come now, should come immediately. I call upon the Congress to act this month upon measures that will be the first step in this direction starting with real police reform.”
I agree. Anything less than policing reform that meets Biden’s one-month deadline is unacceptable.
The House Judiciary Committee, upon which I sit, is holding a hearing next week on police brutality and violence. This is a good first step, but we must follow this hearing with concrete action.
Movement leaders and activists have long been fighting for these critical reforms and members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) have already introduced meaningful legislation that matches Biden’s calls for exigency. Now with Biden’s full endorsement and renewed sense of urgency, we have the opportunity to pass these policing reforms immediately. These reforms include:
The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which I first introduced in 2014 in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s murder, I reintroduced in 2019, and it is ready and waiting for consideration. The Act would help demilitarize law enforcement which is exactly what Biden has called for in his Tuesday speech by banning the Department of Defense from transferring weapons of war such as explosives, tanks, and armed drones to local police departments.
This bill, which is routinely bipartisan, has more than 70 Democratic co-sponsors, including CBC chair Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassFor Democrats it should be about votes, not megaphones Proposed California maps put incumbents in jeopardy Bass calls 'Black pastors' comment during Arbery trial 'despicable' MORE (D-Calif.) and CPC co-chairs Reps. Mark PocanMark William PocanWith Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps Dems brace for score on massive Biden bill House passes trillion infrastructure bill, advances social spending plan MORE (D-Wis.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Democrats plow ahead as Manchin yo-yos MORE (D-Wash.).
I have also introduced the Police Accountability Act, the Grand Jury Reform Act, and the Cooling Off Period Elimination Act to get at the root of causes of police officers who kill citizens with impunity and are never truly held accountable.
In his Tuesday speech, Biden lauded the Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act, and urged Congress to “put it on the President’s desk in the next few days.” Introduced in 2019 by Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesWith Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps Will media portrayals of Rittenhouse lead to another day in court? The real 'threat to democracy'? Pols who polarize us with their opinions MORE (D-N.Y.), the Act would ban police use of the chokehold and all other punishment techniques that inhibit breathing.
The Police Exercising Absolute Care With Everyone (PEACE) Act, introduced in 2019 by Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaKhanna advocates for 'honest and reflective patriotism' in America Democrats call on Education secretary to address 'stealthing' at federal level Showdown: Pelosi dares liberals to sink infrastructure bill MORE (D-Calif.),establishes federal standards for use of force which is another policing reform that Biden endorsed on Tuesday.
And, Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyHouse progressives urge Garland to intervene in ex-environmental lawyer Steven Donziger's case GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Will media portrayals of Rittenhouse lead to another day in court? MORE’s (D-Mass.) House Resolution formally condemning all acts of police brutality, the use of militarized force, and racial profiling by law enforcement. While this resolution is largely a symbolic gesture, it is a crucial one, and should be passed and then bolstered by substantive legislation.
Unless and until we address police being able to operate with impunity and commit acts of violence against unarmed citizens with no consequences, we are never going to make any real progress or solutions.
There is no silver bullet to fix our broken criminal justice system. But taken together, these bills ensure a more thorough review of cases involving law enforcement officers, keep bad officers off the streets, and begin the necessary healing process to regain the trust and respect between communities and the police.
In his broadcast speech on Tuesday, Biden underscored the gravity of recent events, saying: “We can't leave this moment thinking that we can once again turn away and do nothing.”
I couldn’t agree more. Doing nothing is not an option. We can meet Biden’s ambitious goal of reform within the month if we move swiftly to take up the legislation we already have teed up, and pass a bold policing reform package now.
Congressman Johnson is a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet. He is also Secretary of the Congressional Black Caucus.