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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.

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

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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 Hoyer (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.  

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 Barr 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 Trump 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 Bass (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 Omar (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?”

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 Jeffries (D-N.Y.), by holding those bad actors to account. 

“Unless there’s accountability, there can never be change,” Jeffries said. 

Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Defunding police Donald Trump George Floyd protests Hakeem Jeffries Ilhan Omar Karen Bass Nancy Pelosi police brutality police reform Steny Hoyer William Barr

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