US Democrats introduce sweeping police reform bill

London Protest

Washington, June 9 : US Democrats in Congress have proposed sweeping legislation to reform American police, following weeks of protests against police brutality and racism.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass, Senator Kamala Harris and others began work on the reform bill in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month as a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, even as Mr Floyd said he could not breathe.

Since a video of Mr Floyd’s death emerged online, sparking anew decades-old conversations about heavy-handed police tactics in black communities, many liberal anti-police-brutality activists have adopted the motto “defund the police” or “abolish the police,” arguing that local law enforcement institutions are too broken or systemically racist to simply reform.

Among the bill’s most noteworthy reforms are provisions to:

  • Provide federal funding for racial bias training;
  • Create a national misconduct registry for officers to ensure officers with lengthy and questionable records can simply change departments to avoid accountability;
  • Reform “qualified immunity laws” to make it easier to prosecute police and other government agent misconduct;
  • Require state and local law enforcement agencies to report use-of-force incidents to the Justice Department;
  • Ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level, and incentivise local departments to adopt similar measures by withholding funding for those that don’t.

The reform package, crafted by Democratic leaders in Congress, can be viewed as the “official” position of the party – at least for now. It is, in part, an effort to head off more drastic measures that some on the left, under the slogan “defund the police”, are pushing.

If the Democrats can keep their liberal ranks in line, they should be able to get the reforms passed in the House of Representatives, where they have a majority. The outlook is less certain in the Republican-controlled Senate – particularly if Donald Trump sees political advantage in trying to paint Democratic proposals as a threat to “law and order”.

While there is sure to be plenty of heated rhetoric from national politicians during a presidential election season, the real change may end up coming from local officials who are more directly accountable to the voters in municipalities that have seen the largest protests.

The call to disband the police in Minneapolis, while largely symbolic at this point, could indicate that sweeping changes are very real possibility – with or without federal guidance.

This could be the beginning of series of local experiments in policing reform that take very different forms in different parts of the US.

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