9 Jun 2020

US Democrats introduce sweeping legislation to reform police

6:30 pm on 9 June 2020

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

Senator Cory Booker, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Senator Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Karen Bass and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer join fellow Democrats to kneel in silence to honour George Floyd on 8 June, 2020.

Senator Cory Booker, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Senator Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Karen Bass and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer join fellow Democrats to kneel in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds to honour George Floyd in Washington, DC on 8 June, 2020. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images / AFP

The bill would make it easier to prosecute police for misconduct, ban chokeholds, and addresses racism.

It comes after Minneapolis lawmakers vowed to disband the city's police force.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a white officer there sparked national pressure for change.

However, it was unclear whether Republicans, who control the US Senate, would support the proposed Justice in Policing Act of 2020.

US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that "the Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police. Sorry, I want LAW & ORDER!"

Floyd's brother is expected to testify to the House of Representatives this week in a hearing on police reform.

What does the bill say?

The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 was introduced on Monday by top Democratic lawmakers House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, black senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

As she unveiled the bill, Pelosi read the names of black men and women who had died at the hands of police in recent years.

The bill forces federal police to use body and dashboard cameras, bans chokeholds, eliminates unannounced police raids known as "no-knock warrants", makes it easier to hold police liable for civil rights violations and calls for federal funds to be withheld from local police forces who do not make similar reforms.

"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," Pelosi said.

"Today, this movement of national anguish is being transformed into a movement of national action".

The bill makes lynching a federal crime, limits the sale of military weapons to the police and gives the Department of Justice the authority to investigate state and local police for evidence of department-wide bias or misconduct.

It would also create a "national police misconduct registry" - a database of complaints against police.

Some Republican leaders have said they would consider the possibility of writing their own bill, with a hearing scheduled in the Senate Judiciary committee next week.

However, members of President Trump's party have been largely reticent on signalling support for legislation.

In a break with his party, Republican Senator Mitt Romney on Sunday tweeted pictures of himself marching towards the White House with Christian protesters, with the caption "Black Lives Matter."

What is police defunding?

"Defund the police" was a rallying cry during the latest street protests, that at times spilt into violence and looting.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had already said he would divert money from the city's police department to social services.

"Defunding" advocates have for years been condemning what they describe as the aggressive militarised policing in the US.

They argue that police departments' budgets should be slashed and funds diverted to social programmes to avoid unnecessary confrontation and heal the racial divide.

Trump has sought to cast his expected presidential challenger, Democrat Joe Biden, as a proponent of defunding police, but Biden on Monday denied that he was a supporter.

"I don't support defunding the police," Biden said in an interview with the BBC's US partner CBS.

"I support conditioning federal aid to police, based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and... are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community."

Entire city police departments have been disbanded before in the country: in Compton, California, in 2000, and 12 years later in Camden, New Jersey. In both cases they were replaced with bigger new forces that covered local counties.

What's the latest on the protests?

Demonstrators gathered again on Sunday in US cities including Washington DC, New York, and Los Angeles - where a local broadcaster estimated 20,000 people had rallied down Hollywood Boulevard.

The protests were mostly peaceful, and security measures across the US were lifted as unrest started to ease. However, Seattle Police Department said a man drove a car into a demonstration there on Sunday night, before shooting and wounding a 27-year-old bystander.

The UK also saw sizeable weekend protests in support of Black Lives Matter, with demonstrations in cities including London, Manchester, Cardiff, Leicester and Sheffield.

Protesters in London knelt for a minute's silence before chanting "no justice, no peace".

In Australia, tens of thousands joined anti-racism protests in Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and elsewhere, despite warnings from officials over the coronavirus.


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