The U.S. Capitol (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House passed a sweeping police reform package Thursday night in response to massive civil unrest over police brutality.
The package cleared the chamber largely along partisan lines, with 236 lawmakers (mostly Democrats) voting for it and 181 lawmakers (180 Republicans and one Independent) voting against it. Three Republicans sided with Democrats in backing the bill — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan and Will Hurd of Texas.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from New Orleans and a vocal champion of the bill on Capitol Hill, was the only representative from Louisiana to support the measure. Republican Reps. Ralph Abraham, Garrett Graves, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson and Steve Scalise all opposed it.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hailed the package on the House floor Thursday, saying it would “fundamentally transform the culture of policing to address systemic racism, curb police brutality and save lives.”
But the bill — passed one month after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed while in police custody — is unlikely to become law.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried and failed to advance a modest GOP bill Wednesday and is not expected to take up the Democrats’ more comprehensive measure.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, threatened on Wednesday to veto the Democratic bill, arguing it would deter people from pursuing law enforcement careers, erode public safety and weaken relationships between police departments and communities.
Scalise, the House Republican Whip, urged Democrats to instead “get on board” with the GOP bill, called the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act, which he said “has a real shot at becoming law.” The GOP bill was authored by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate GOP conference. McConnell tried to bring the bill to the floor Wednesday, but he fell five votes short of the 60 votes he needed to advance it.
Days before the vote Richmond told the Illuminator the energy in the country suggests the public is more supportive of what the Democrats have proposed. He called the Senate GOP bill “lukewarm” and “watered down” and said he was in favor Senate Democrats blocking the measure, which they did the day before the House passed its bill. if Democrats didn’t block the GOP bill, Richmond said, then they’d have been guilty of letting Republicans “act like they did something in response to this national movement.”
He said the GOP bill sounded like “all deliberate speed,” the indefinite time frame the U.S. Supreme Court gave school districts to comply with its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that public schools had to be desegregated. Some school districts waited more than 10 years to start complying. In this case, Richmond said, the Republicans were essentially saying to law enforcement agencies, “Look, people are complaining. We really need you to change your behavior. Try.”
“That’s not what this moment calls for,” Richmond said. “The Republicans don’t ban chokeholds. You can’t even start this conversation without banning chokeholds.” The House named its bill for Floyd, who died after Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis officer, kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes. Chauvin was fired and has been charged with second-degree murder.
In addition to chokeholds, the Democratic legislation would also ban no-knock warrants at the federal level, bar racial profiling, limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement officials and make it easier to prosecute police misconduct in the courts by eliminating the “qualified immunity” doctrine that shields law enforcement officials from lawsuits, among other things.
The bill drew objections from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which called increased funding for law enforcement a non-starter. “The role of policing has to be smaller, more circumscribed and less funded with taxpayer dollars,” ACLU legislative counsel Kanya Bennett said in a statement when the bill was introduced this month.
Scott’s bill would incentivize departments to increase the use of body cameras, improve training in de-escalation tactics and require that performance records be taken into greater account when making hiring decisions. It would also increase data collection on the use of force, weapon discharge and no-knock warrants, among other provisions.
It would not ban chokeholds or no-knock warrants at the federal level or make it easier for victims of police brutality to sue officers and seek damages. Nor would it bar racial and religious profiling or limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement officials.
Pelosi said the GOP bill is “inconsistent with a genuine belief that Black lives matter” and said she hopes passage of the Democratic bill will force the Senate to act. The Senate, she said, has the choice to either honor Floyd’s life or do nothing.
McConnell, meanwhile, painted Democrats with the do-nothing label. “Our Democratic colleagues tried to say with straight faces that they want the Senate to discuss police reform — while they blocked the Senate from discussing police reform,” he said Thursday.
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