Pushed by National Uprising, Democratic Lawmakers Unveil Legislation to Overhaul Policing

By Andrea Germanos, senior editor and staff writer. Originally published at Common Dreams

After two weeks of nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, a group of congressional Democrats on Monday introduced bicameral legislation to overhaul the nation’s policing practices, including ending racial profiling, banning chokeholds, and curbing the transfer of military grade equipment in law enforcement. The bill would also make lynching a federal crime.

“The Justice in Policing Act establishes a bold, transformative vision of policing in America,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.) as she announced the legislation. “Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets in Minneapolis—the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer.”

The new measure is led by Bass along with Sens. Corey Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).  It’s supported thus far by 166 representatives and 35 senators as well as civil rights organizations including the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Urban League.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), one of the co-sponsors of the House version of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, called the legislation “a bold step towards justice and accountability” that arrives as a result of “those rising up and speaking out, marching and protesting, demanding accountability and fighting for justice.”

A statement from the lawmakers details a number of the provisions in the legislative package:


  • Prohibits federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling, and mandates trainingon racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
  • Bans chokeholds, carotid holds, and no-knock warrants at the federal level and limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.
  • Mandates the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal offices and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
  • Establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave on agency from moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.
  • Amends federal criminal statute from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard to successfully identify and prosecute police misconduct.
  • Reforms qualified immunity so that individuals are not barred from recovering damages when police violate their constitutional rights.
  • Establishes public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just, and equitable public safety approaches.
  • Creates law enforcement development and training programs to develop best practices and requires the creation of law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations based on President Obama’s Taskforce on 21st Century policing.
  • Requires state and local law enforcement agencies to report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, age.
  • Improves the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level by granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and creates a grant program for state attorneys general to develop authority to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments.
  • Establishes a Department of Justice task force to coordinate the investigation, prosecution, and enforcement efforts of federal, state, and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct.

Booker, in a Monday statement, said the legislation takes “a comprehensive approach to ending police brutality.”

“On the back-end, the bill fixes our federal laws so law enforcement officers are held accountable for egregious misconduct and police abuses are better tracked and reported,” he said. “And on the front-end, the bill improves police practices and training to prevent these injustices from happening in the first place.”

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the legislation “historic and long overdue” and “responsive to many of the urgent demands being pressed for by our communities and by the people protesting for racial justice and equity across our nation.”

But, she added on Twitter, “This bill is but one step.”

There is “no question that police reform will not solve the problem of police violence alone,” she tweeted. “We need to shrink the footprint of police and criminalization in Black and brown communities incl shifting resources funding this model to positive supports and systems.”

Given that qualified support, Clarke said that her and other civil rights groups would still “push for real change that shrinks the footprint of the criminal legal system, including police, in Black and Brown people’s lives and makes all communities safer and more prosperous.”

The Justice in Policing act does not address a key demand of protesters—to defund police.

Writer Jack Mirkinson described the new legislation as an example of “wholly inadequate attempts to harness the energy of the protests and redirect them onto more politically comfortable paths” when it’s clear “police ‘reform’ is not enough.”

Human rights lawyer and Guardian columnist Derecka Purnell was blunt in her assessment of the proposal, calling it “not a step in the right direction.”

“It reaffirms that policing can be a just institution,” she tweeted. “The last six years have shown that consent decrees does not stop and cannot stop police from surveilling, arresting, and jailing Black people. It is their job.”


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  1. The Rev Kev

    The Democrats are going to come up with a bill to solve all these problems? Hang on a minute, I just have to check something on a Synonym Thesaurus before I comment. Hmmm…..OK, here it is. Right, Betray – synomyns are abandon, deceive, forsake, mislead, seduce, bluff, double-cross, delude, sell out, stab in the back, desert. Right, got that sorted.

    If anybody believes that the Democrats are going to do anything about the current problems, then I can get you a good price on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Democrats want to put themselves at the head of this movement so that they can lead it into the same place that all good Progressives go to die – the Democratic party. Blind Freddy can see it.

    If they happen to win power in November, they will screw around and negotiate over the text of this bill for the next four years and announce in 2023 that the only way that it will pass is if they get another four more years in power. What will be in it? More surveillance powers, more military gear for the police, etc. and you know what? It will be Bipartisan.

    1. James E Keenan

      I’m not quite as skeptical as The Rev Kev is about this, but I think one key factor will be: At the national level and at the level of individual states, will the Democratic Party forbid its candidates from accepting campaign donations from police unions and police supporter groups?

    2. flora

      The words “bold” and “transformative” are always a tell that whatever is proposed is more about political PR than about effecting necessary change. The GOP, if it’s foolish, will attack the idea and that will give the Dems a ‘win’ in the ‘we’re the lesser evil’ race.

    3. The Historian

      I guess I am a cynic like you too, Rev Kev. Piven and Cloward, in their book “Poor People’s Movements” have pointed out that the best way to tamp down a revolt is to co-opt it. Oh, sure, maybe a very few things will change, but the protestors aren’t going to get anything near what they are asking for – but they will go back to being silent – and after all, isn’t that what the powers that be want?

      Meanwhile all this concern trolling by the Democrats distracts from the real disaster that the Democrats and Republicans in Congress have perpetrated on the middle class and poor – the greatest wealth transfer in history! Another bonus!


      1. Jen

        Time will tell as to whether this movement gets co-opted, and if so by whom. One of the challenges the democrat establishment has at this juncture, if they aim to co-opt the movement, is that these police murders, these military style crackdowns on peaceful protesters are happening in cities and states run by the democrat establishment.

        Another problem is that they are so blatantly, obviously full of sh*t.

        A third is that there seem to be a lot of people out there who have just had it, and will not settle for meaningless gestures anymore.

    4. Tom Stone

      Rev, that bridge sounds real interesting, what are the details?
      Right now my money is tied up in converting the old toll booths on the Golden Gate Bridge into mini starbucks and pre construction condo’s on the Salton Sea but I hear Sofbank is looking for the next sure thing.

  2. Jen

    I found this courtesy of the #8toAbolition site that Lambert posted on the water cooler yesterday. It evaluates “reforms” based on 4 criteria. Does the proposed action:

    1) Reduce funding to police
    2) Challenge the notion that police increase safety
    3) Reduce the tools/tactics/technology that the police have at their disposal
    4) Reduce the scale of policing

    I find the 2nd point especially interesting, given the justification for endless wars and boundless military spending is always about “keeping us safe.”


    #8toAbolition also came across my transom on a restorative justice listserve that I monitor. There has been a lot of back and forth over the past week. I will post one comment that is representative of the sentiment I’m seeing:

    “We don’t need more conversations and task forces. We need structural changes. The information is out there, Black people are NOT saying anything new. The issues of today have been well documented in books, research, tv shows, panels, emails etc for years. Folks just failed to listen and Black people got tired of talking only to fall on deaf ears. So we are taking matters in our own hands, to be our own saviors and heroes. ”

    Related to this from 2015, and still germain:

    “I’m not interested in having your version of a race conversation. I want your race solutions. I want your race activism. I want your race scholarship. I don’t want to have any more conversations as goals. All of the necessary conversations have been happening. We published the conversations. We recorded the conversations on video. We turned the conversations into poems and memes and songs and TV shows. We gave the conversations away for free. We put the conversations in all of your libraries, and whatever library doesn’t have it can get the conversations for you at no cost. We codified the conversations and made them classes and presentations and conferences. The conversations are old and easy to find. We already had them for you. All you got to do is sit down and listen. ”


  3. CGKen

    One huge missing piece is any talk of ending the drug war. Not to say it would eliminate police abuse, but look at how many of these cases start because the police think someone is involved somehow in selling drugs.

    The drug war has provided excuses for police at all levels (city, state, federal) to harass people. It’s also given them massive amounts of money for equipment and training.

    Any serious response to police brutality would include the end of prohibition ASAP.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I don’t think the drug wars and are other perma wars are unrelated or are being forgotten. Marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts aren’t solely about getting high or medicinal reasons but have found support among people who want to burn down the drug trade without cops. Its like “no taxation without representation.” It doesn’t make sense on its own and no colonist ever demanded a seat in parliament outside of jest, but its representative of the larger problem.

      I’m astonished by the reaction of Team Blue. If they thought they could get away with it, Biden would be hosting a social distancing beer gathering at most. The lesson isn’t to be happy but to continue to squeeze these people. Always kick a man when he’s down.

    2. lyle

      As I read somewhere drug prohibition also means that disputes along the drug distribution chain have to be handled the very old fashion way by violence, since the courts would not handle a business dispute between drug dealers since what they are selling is illegal. This could cut the number of shootings etc down as a lot seem to involve drug dealing.

  4. chuck roast

    Typical Dem BS. Bad Cop will now be a Federal Crime. I’m guessing that’s kind of like how “fraudulent conveyance” is a Federal Crime. The cops will be laughing all the way to the Dunkin’ Doughnuts.

    Show me Federal requirement along with Federal funding of locally elected police review boards with the absolute power to remove and punish bad cops. That kind of thing might have prevented me from being abused twice in my lifetime.

  5. Martine

    As we’ve repeatedly seen, many misrepresentations show up in interviews and reporting in general when legislation is introduced that promises to settle a crisis on the ground.

    It’s important to read the bill and follow its changes, especially as it’s “scored” for budgetary purposes.

    Here’s a link to a PDF of the legislation as proposed: https://judiciary.house.gov/uploadedfiles/justice_in_policing_act_of_2020.pdf

    I’m going to read it and compare it with these original claims about its content. I encourage everybody to do this as you will see that many things are open to interpretation.

    Anyone interested in starting an ongoing analysis and discussion as this unfolds?

    1. Martine

      For instance, I would call attention to this bill’s reliance on the Attorney General in its implementation and the wide-ranging discretionary powers the AG is charged with, remembering that that would be William Barr. Or would have been Eric Holder, for that matter. Or Kamala Harris…

      (Sorry, put this in the wrong place.)

      1. flora

        Thanks for these 2 comments. I’m interested in reading an ongoing analysis; I haven’t the legal training to add anything useful to such an analysis.

        Your point about the reliance on the AG is interesting. That sounds like a big loophole to me, but I’m not a lawyer.

    2. TimH

      Currently touching a police officer is defined as assault.

      There needs to be a window of agreed behavior for the police to approach a suspect (who might be blind and/or deaf also) whereby the suspect can put themselves in a specific unthreatening condition before the police get within arms reach. Also, the police cannot approach beyond that point unless they have a working camera, and state the reason for the detention into the recording.

      The penalties need to be mandatory and explicit for abuse, and not subject to negotiation. Any law will only have an effect if there is no wiggle room about prosecuting a transgressor. Currently DAs get to choose who gets procesuted for what, and can fob decisions off to grand juries.

  6. marym

    Defund the Police represents a different vision for policing, community safety, and re-allocating resources. There are people who have thought about and worked on these issues in detail, and some of the specifics are probably part of more mainstream “reform” proposals; but at this point I don’t think the post’s characterization of defund the police as “a key demand of protesters” is accurate. I’m in favor of setting transformative goals on the left, and maybe this vision should be a key demand but for now the people in the streets all across the country mostly seem to see the killing and violence, and the racism that makes it possible, and think it should stop. There have been oceans of home-made signs that say BLM, or I can’t breathe or some variation on racism is wrong. (Maybe I surf the wrong places in twitter? the linked “This is Huge” Common Dreams post doesn’t make the case.)

  7. Matthew Saroff

    More virtue signalling.

    They know that McConnell would never allow it on the Senate floor.

  8. Martine

    For instance, I would call attention to this bill’s reliance on the Attorney General in its implementation and the wide-ranging discretionary powers the AG is charged with, remembering that that would be William Barr. Or would have been Eric Holder, for that matter.

  9. Rod

    I see a positive role for the FIRE sector.
    All PD’s must carry the Insurance—FIRE profit centers take all forms.
    Maybe shared Insurance Responsibility for Officers and Departments. Basic(for the Dept.) and attached Rider for Officer Performance.
    Like a DUI—conduct complaints raise cost for both.
    The solutions, like those conversations, already exist, imo.

  10. David in Santa Cruz

    Until the USA ends the systematic exclusion of a significant cohort of its population from meaningful participation in the economy, especially the descendants of an oppressive system of race-based slavery to this day still enshrined in the national constitution, repressive policing will continue to be widespread — accepted by the plutocratic elite as a means of hanging-on to their privilege.


  11. Aaron

    I have not yet seen much discussion of drug legalization, but to me the criminalization of drugs and the resulting empowerment of violent criminal syndicates seems inextricably linked to both the militarization of police and the racist implications and implementation of existing law. Without legalization we’ll still have violent gangs because the groups selling illegal drugs will still be fighting for turf. That violence will necessitate (or at least make repeated public arguments for) a certain level of police militarization. The raids and associated arrests will stay in poor (and likely minority) neighborhoods…to be honest I don’t have a perfect grasp on why it is that way now (other than the police not wanting to piss off wealthy folks and maybe outright racism) but I don’t see a lot that would change this (training and the banning of racial profiling seems insufficient). Suburban pot-smokers will not need to fear but ghetto pot-smokers will, as they are now, be at increased risk of getting a felony conviction. The cops who take part will likely, through repeated experience, come to associate people of color with violent criminals, as will many of the people who watch the nightly news. And the people with criminal records and felony convictions–again, slanted towards people of color and especially men of color because of the drug war–will find opportunities for an honest living later in life to be lacking.

    Almost none of this will be fixed by the federal reforms that are on the table–good as some of them are. Only some of it will be fixed by defunding police departments in favor of public safety forces–and only then if the public safety forces do a sort of de facto legalization thing. But even then, the issue of violent crime stemming from organized crime will not have been solved. I don’t honestly think we can fix this without legalization of currently illegal drugs and an approach that sees drug use as an illness rather than a crime.

  12. smoker

    The Bill numbers and links:

    Karen Bass’ House Bill: H.R.7120 – To hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies. (The short title is Justice in Policing Act of 2020.) The current text is here.

    Corey Booker’s Senate Bill: S.3912 – A bill to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies. (That’s the ‘Long’ Title.) The text isn’t available yet.

    That being noted –and especially when IDPol Presidential Strivers™ (by whatever means/betrayal necessary) Booker and Harris are highlighted – I have utterly no faith that these bills will do anything for the average black person constantly subject to police abuse, or those increasingly oppressed and impoverished, and disabled citizens, of all races who’ve also witnessed police abuse historically. I.e. ditto the above comments by David in Santa Cruz, Alice X, and others.

    Sorry in advance, due to current browser issues I can’t allow the scripting to nest a comment to any responses to this comment without risking a computer crash. Also I have no energy left to even debate this if I could allow scripting.

  13. Code Name D

    Let’s call it the “give them crumb” strategy the Democrats are so fond of. Many of the ideas in the bill have been talked about before, and they are not bad on their own. But when taken in broader context is completely inadequate.

    It ignores the fact that the police are only one link in a chain of abuse. You still have the abuse from the courts, bondsmen, prisons, prison labor, fixing the jury, parole, for profit policing, and so forth. The Democrat’s bill does not touch ANY of this.

    It also ignores the iniquity of policing. If some one tries to pass off a fake $20, he gets kneeled on the neck till dead. But if some one steels billions, or runs a privet server, or has dealings with a sex trafficker – nothing happens. Hell, many of Trumps mis-dead’s are ignored by the so called resistance. Or how workplaces are unsafe because CEOs keep deferring routine maintenance. People die there too. And what happens? They get made into an ambassador or some cushy government job.

    Maybe the protestors need to start putting pressure on the courts and court system.

  14. montanamaven

    Wouldn’t all these “reforms” be a continuation of the money laundering schemes of Congress aka non-profits and NGOs? “Training” and “Youth programs” and “community grants” etc. all get funds and then cronies get to run them. Why not give money directly to the people in terms of M4A and a basic income? What is being proposed is shuffling money around to politicians’ friends. More bureaucracy it sounds like not more equality.

  15. polecat

    What?? No mandatory dress of Kente Cloth Scarves by all Police on duty, written & ridered into the legislation – the penalty for non-attire being pain of brick!! .. along with the appropriate coordinated mask tonalities, the color worn depending on race, of course .. as recently performed by our wokingly wokest woke House masters* .. ??

    Color me shocked!

    phony – cynical – pantomime .. All of it!

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