WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other top Democrats in the House and the Senate on Monday unveiled far-reaching legislation to overhaul policing in the United States as protests over excessive force by law enforcement against African Americans and others have gripped the nation.
The bill, called the “Justice in Policing Act,” would ban chokeholds, including the kind used by a then-Minneapolis police officer in the death of George Floyd last month, as well as no-knock warrants in drug cases, as was used in the incident leading to the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March, according to a a House Democratic aide and a bill summary obtained by NBC News.
The legislation, which has more than 200 Democratic co-sponsors in the House and the Senate, would require local police departments to send data on the use of force to the federal government and create a grant program that would allow state attorneys general to create an independent process to investigate misconduct or excessive use of force, according to the five-page summary of the bill. Further, the bill would make it easier for people to recover damages when police departments violate their civil rights and, for the first time, would make lynching a federal hate crime.
"The martyrdom of George Floyd gave the American experience a moment of national anguish as we grieve for the black Americans killed by police brutality today," Pelosi said at a news conference on the bill. "This moment of national anguish is being transformed into a movement of national action as Americans from across the country peacefully protest to demand an end to injustice."
Pelosi said that in the coming weeks, the House will hold hearings, a markup and a vote on the legislation. Democratic leaders expressed confidence that it would pass the House, and Pelosi said she hopes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would "swiftly" take it up.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at the news conference that Senate Democrats "are going to fight like hell" to make the legislation "a reality," adding the "poison of racism" has permeated American society, beyond just the criminal justice system.
The measure comes in the wake of massive protests that have swept the nation over the last two weeks since Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police. While some activists have been calling for the defunding of police departments, the bill doesn’t shrink police budgets. The legislation also would not provide new funding to police departments to implement the proposed reforms, according to a Senate Democratic aide.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass, D-Calif., who played a lead role in crafting the legislation, said at a press conference Monday that the power of the protest movement across the U.S. will help Congress pass this measure, which, in addition to holding police accountable and increasing transparency, would change police culture.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said that while white people originally came to the U.S. willingly in search of a new world full of liberty and justice, black people came against their will, shackled and enslaved — and the injustices have continued to this day.
"Think about how long that is, how many generations that is. It's a long time. Eight minutes and 46 seconds," he said, referring to the length of time Derek Chauvin, then a Minneapolis police officer, had his knee on Floyd's neck. "That's a long time to be on one knee, but for 244 years, there were plenty knees on the necks of blacks who came to this country."
Just before the news conference, Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers had knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silent tribute to Floyd.
Moments after Democrats discussed their bill, President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter that Democrats were seeking to defund police departments.
"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.
A training program would be created under the bill that would cover racial bias and duty to intervene, and the measure would require that police officers use deadly force only as a last resort and use de-escalation techniques. The measure would also create a federal registry for misconduct complaints and disciplinary actions against police officers.
Under the bill, federal uniformed police officers would be required to wear body cameras and marked federal police vehicles would be required to have dashboard cameras. The legislation would also limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local police departments.
The bill was developed by Bass, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. Harris is considered a possible vice presidential pick for Joe Biden, now the 2020 presumptive Democratic nominee.
Harris, a former federal prosecutor, said Monday that the country needs independent investigations into the use of force because, she said, "no matter how well-intentioned" prosecutors in district attorneys' offices are when dealing with police misconduct, "there will be an appearance of conflict" because they work with those departments every day.
Harris also said there must be a "national use of force standard."
"Right now, the question asked if there is police misconduct and excessive force is to ask of that use of force, 'Was it reasonable?' Well, as we all know, we can reason away just about anything," she said at the news conference. "The appropriate and fair question to ask is, 'Was it necessary?'"