Minority caucuses call for quick action on police reform
The heads of the House minority caucuses called Wednesday for quick congressional action on police reform, amid nationwide protests over police violence.
A series of different measures on police reform are under consideration by House Democrats, who say they could use the recently-enacted proxy voting powers to push through a bill without violating coronavirus social distancing guidelines.
The push for legislation comes as protests over the death of George Floyd under police custody convulse the country.
“We need to get this legislation passed, [the protesters] have to see that we are doing something,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).
“The kind of energy we are seeing now will have to be there when the bills go to the Senate,” she added.
Chu was joined by Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chair Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), CBC member Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Reps. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), the first two Native American women ever elected to the House.
Together, the CBC, CHC and CAPAC are known as the Tri-Caucus and are sometimes referred to as the Quad-Caucus when coordinating with the two Native American Democrats.
Minority lawmakers especially want to prioritize a resolution led by Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Lee, and Bass.
The resolution would offer an official condemnation on acts of police brutality, while calling for independent oversight boards and a push for the Department of Justice to reassert its authority to investigate individual cases of racial profiling.
Bass told reporters in a video press conference that the resolution would be enforceable because Congress could condition funding for different programs on fulfillment of the resolution’s conditions.
“Frankly if it was not enforced we would be wasting our time,” said Bass.
But Bass shot down the idea to defund police departments, an idea that’s been circulating on the left as a quick way to force police reform.
The lawmakers urged quick action – Bass said the House should act before the end of June – to avoid the pitfalls that usually befall police reform legislation, particularly in the Senate.
“It would be irresponsible for us to wait, we need to vote on these bills as soon as they are ready,” said Bass.
Bass added that the “momentum and public pressure” are on the side of those who want police reform now, but warned against letting the moment pass.
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) laid out a framework Monday of what they believe a police reform bill should look like.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday “there may be a role” for lawmakers in addressing the calls for action on police violence, but Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) rejected the idea of quick congressional action.
But Bass said she’s hopeful the resolution might garner some Republican support, given the degree of public outrage in the wake of Floyd’s death after Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the unarmed man’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Chauvin, and three other officers present at the scene, were fired, and the charge against Chauvin was upgraded to second-degree murder Wednesday while his colleagues were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Bass said the political and social momentum backed by national protests could overcome opposition to reform from police unions.
The politically powerful unions have historically opposed expanding oversight of police action.
But policing has become a top issue for Tri-Caucus members, who comprise more than half of the House Democratic Caucus.
And the sheer number of cases of police violence caught on video has moved the needle toward more generalized public support of police reform, said Castro.
Before ubiquitous smartphones and social media, said Castro, “it was a matter of, ‘who are you going to believe, police or person on the verge of being arrested?'”
“In 1991 we got a taste of what we see now with the happenstance recording of what happened to Rodney King,” he added.
Until the killing of Floyd, Castro argued, police challenged public videos with “different interpretive reasons for why they’re still using excessive force.”
“This video moved us beyond issues of interpretation,” said Castro.