Civil rights and social justice leaders convened virtually Wednesday morning to demand comprehensive congressional action and hold police accountable for their lethal and excessive actions that far too often involve Black lives.
They united to urge Congress to move swiftly and pass the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act into law, describing the bill as a literal matter of life or death amid a national policing crisis. Their demands came just weeks ahead of the start of the George Floyd murder trial in Minneapolis and one week before the House was expected to vote on the crucial and timely legislation.
Former California Rep. and current Housing and Urban Development Secretary Karen Bass in June unveiled the sweeping legislation aimed at reforming the ways in which police departments enforce the nation’s laws. Led by the Congressional Black Caucus the bill ambitiously aims to end police brutality, hold police accountable, improve transparency in policing and create meaningful, structural change when it comes to how law enforcement does their jobs.
If the bill advances through the House and Senate and gets signed into law, it would be the first-ever bold, comprehensive law enforcement accountability and transparency legislation.
Some of the notable portions of the bill include redefining malleable legal terms that impede the successful prosecution of killer cops as well as not offering any new federal funding for police departments.
Perhaps most significantly, the bill aims to hold police accountable by collecting data about officers accused of misconduct and worse behavior. It would establish a national registry that would attempt to address loopholes that allow cops who have been fired from one department to be hired by another.
There are other pertinent provisions the Justice in Policing Act covers, as well, including mandating the use of body cameras and dashboard cameras.
Wednesday’s media briefing began with a viewing of the infamous video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck before eight civil rights and social justice leaders each briefly addressed the legislation that they say is needed to have any semblance of accountability for police officers who use excessive and lethal force under questionable circumstances.
“The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is focused, first and foremost, on addressing the regime of impunity that has allowed police officers for decades to kill innocent Black men, women, and children without accountability,” Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund President & Director-Counsel said. “If Congress fails to act to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, it will prove Derek Chauvin right. It will reinforce that in encounters with Black people, law enforcement officers are above the law.”
Ifill and others compared the plight to get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed to other historic legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
“Every state has been implicated by this issue,” she said. “Because there are not sufficient civil rights protections at the state level … we expect Congress to act.”
Wade Henderson, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Interim President & CEO, emphasized the need for a national database of police who have been disciplined for using excessive and/or lethal force to prevent them from being rehired in law enforcement capacities elsewhere. Mentioning how the bill bans no-knock warrants and excessive force maneuvers like chokeholds, Henderson admitted that while the bill may not be “perfect,” it still “represents meaningful progress” and should be passed swiftly by the House and Senate.
“We cannot go through this cycle over and over again,” Henderson said. “Now is the time for those in our nation’s highest offices to take steps to end state-sanctioned violence” and bring structural change to end white supremacy.
Derrick Johnson, NAACP President & CEO, spoke about the abuse of power that law enforcement employs when it comes to accountability for their actions, especially as it relates to Black people.
“For African Americans, we have far too many individuals who take their oath of duty for granted … because they know they have a special privilege,” Johnson said while alluding to a lack of police accountability.
“No person sworn to protect and uphold the law should operate above the law,” Johnson said before adding later: “They are able to do that because there is no accountability in place.”
Johnnetta Betsch Cole, National Council of Negro Women National Chair & President, made sure to point out that it’s not just Black men who are victimized by the police.
“There’s a very long history – and herstory – of violence against Black women, men and children by individual white supremacists and state-sanctioned brutality,” she said.
Cole ran down the very real history of police violence against Black people, going back hundreds of years from slavery and lynchings and enduring through to Reconstruction, Jim Crow and thriving until the current day.
“State-sanctioned violence against African Americans continues as some police – clearly not all – engage in excessive fore and actions that lead to the unwarranted death of Black women, Black men, and yes, Black children,” Cole added. “It will not cease until there are specific and concrete actions … to stop acts of misconduct and racial force in policing.”
Damon Hewitt, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Executive Vice President, spoke about the “willfulness standard” that he said compels prosecutors to decline indicting officers out of fear they will not be able to win the case.
“Essentially it doesn’t matter that someones dead,” Hewitt said. “It only matters under current law that the prosecutor can prove that the officer acted under willful intent.”
Calling for a quick reintroduction and passage of the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act, Hewitt cited the “moral clarity” he said the law would bring with its enactment.
Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network President, summed it all up succinctly: “This is not an anti-police bill; it’s an anti-bad policing bill.”
Melanie Campbell, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation President & CEO, said challenged Congress: “It’s just time to act.”
Marc H. Morial, National Urban League President & CEO, said, “the call from the people is loud and it’s clear — this is a moment like the ’60s where history will record: where did you stand?”
Of course, it’s not that simple, as the bill would require both chambers of Congress to vote in favor of it during a time when bipartisanship has been challenged. But trying to make the bill “perfect” would be an exercise in futility, Hewitt, the executive vice president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, suggested.
“I congress in the ’60s waited for the perfect voting rights act, we wouldn’t have had legislation,” he said. “No bill is perfect.” But, he continued, this “bill is game-changing, it is paradigm-shifting.”
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Civil Rights Leaders Unite To Demand Congress Pass The George Floyd Justice In Policing Act was originally published on newsone.com