Democrats unveil sweeping legislation in response to protests of police brutality

Democrats in both chambers introduced sweeping reforms on Monday designed to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system — the party’s much awaited legislative response to recent police violence against African Americans that's sparked mass protests across the country and beyond.

Crafted by leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Justice in Policing Act aims to rein in the use of excessive force by law enforcers, particularly the violence targeting blacks and other minorities, who die disproportionately at the hands of police.

The package — the most aggressive crack down on law enforcement to arrive in decades — would establish a federal ban on chokeholds, eliminate the legal shield protecting police from lawsuits, mandate the use of body cameras nationwide, limit federal transfers of military-style weapons to local police, ban military-style weapons for police and create a national database disclosing the names of officers with patterns of abuse.

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It also includes a bill passed by the House earlier this year that would make lynching a federal hate crime.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAs coronavirus surges, Trump tries to dismantle healthcare for millions Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus poses questions about school safety; Trump commutes Roger Stone sentence Pelosi plans legislation to limit pardons, commutations after Roger Stone move MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs MORE (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats rolled out the legislation Monday morning, immediately after they held a moment of silence and took a knee in the Capitol Visitors Center for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the exact time that a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of a handcuffed African American man, George Floyd, before he died. 

Democratic leaders framed the reforms as a crucial and long-overdue remedy to racial injustices in law enforcement, which they described as a systemic plague rooted in hundreds of years of slavery, bigotry and cultural bias.

“When George Floyd called out for his mother, when he was subjected to that knee in the neck, it was just a continuation of some horror that has existed in our country for a very long time,” said Pelosi, flanked by other Democratic leaders and Black Caucus members, all of them draped in kente cloth shawls.

Behind Pelosi, Democrats want to pass the legislation through the House before the end of the month, and House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerMexico's president uses US visit to tout ties with Trump Amy Kennedy wins NJ primary to face GOP's Van Drew House Democrat calls for 'real adult discussion' on lawmaker pay MORE (D-Md.) vowed to call the House back into session as soon as the proposal is ready for consideration on the floor.

"We're gonna vote on it, and I'm confident it's going to pass the House," Hoyer said.  

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That will set up a battle with Republicans in the Senate and White House, who are already voicing concerns that the proposal goes too far to limit the powers of police to fight crime. 

Indeed, Attorney General William BarrBill BarrGOP senator says Trump commuting Stone was a 'mistake' Barr recommended Trump not give Stone clemency: report Trump commutes Roger Stone's sentence MORE on Sunday rejected the notion that the nation’s criminal justice system suffers from widespread racial prejudice — "I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” — revealing that the parties are not agreed on the problem, let alone a legislative solution.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE has adopted a hard-line approach to crime and punishment — a self-proclaimed “law and order” president — and even as Democrats were introducing their proposed limits on policing, Trump was preparing to meet later in the day at the White House with local, state and federal law enforcers. 

"This year has seen the lowest crime numbers in our Country’s recorded history, and now the Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police. Sorry, I want LAW & ORDER!" Trump tweeted Monday morning.

The proposal comes in direct response to the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man killed in the custody of the Minneapolis police exactly two weeks ago. The officer who pinned Floyd to the street, Derek Chauvin, as Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe is now facing murder charges.

Floyd's death, filmed by a bystander, was just the latest in a string of similar killings around the country, and it led to an explosion of protests in cities large and small, where marchers of all races have taken to the streets in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets in Minneapolis, the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer,” said Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen BassKaren Ruth BassThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump takes on CDC over schools Tim Scott says he's talking with House Democrats about reviving police reform bill Biden-Sanders 'unity task force' rolls out platform recommendations MORE (D-Calif.). “The world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in our country. This movement has now spread to many nations around the world with thousands marching to register their horror and hearing the cry: ‘I can't breathe.’” 

Amid the debate, some liberal Democrats are pushing for a much more drastic response to Floyd’s death: defunding police departments altogether. Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid MORE (D), who represents parts of Minneapolis, has called for the department that employed Chauvin to be disbanded.

“The Minneapolis Police Department has proven themselves beyond reform,” Omar tweeted. “It’s time to disband them and reimagine public safety in Minneapolis."

Republicans have pounced on the defund-police movement, characterizing it as an anarchist proposal that would empower criminals without solving underlying problems related to police abuses. 

In an email Monday morning, the House GOP’s campaign arm called the defund movement the “latest insane idea” proposed by the Democratic Party. Republicans are now pressing every vulnerable Democrat on whether they back defunding or cutting funds from police departments.

“No industry is safe from the Democrats’ abolish culture,” said Michael McAdams, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “First they wanted to abolish private health insurance, then it was capitalism and now it’s the police. What’s next, the fire department?”

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Democratic leaders, joined by those in the CBC, have also been quick to reject the idea of defunding police departments. 

"We need the decent good order. We need the protection of property and lives," said Hoyer. 

But empowering police departments does not mean turning a blind eye to abusive officers, the Democrats warned Monday. Their legislation is designed to root out "the malignant tumor of police brutality," in the words of Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesReparations bill gains steam following death of George Floyd Karen Bass's star rises after leading police reform push The Hill's 12:30 Report: Supreme Court ruling marks big win for abortion rights groups MORE (D-N.Y.), by holding those bad actors to account. 

"Unless there's accountability, there can never be change," Jeffries said.