House and Senate lawmakers are planning legislation to respond to police killings and their disproportionate impact on black people beginning with House consideration on a ban on the police chokehold.
House lawmakers are working remotely under a new rule allowing virtual committee business and proxy voting, but they are planning to begin moving at least one bill this month that would address police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
A top Democratic aide told the Washington Examiner the House will soon advance legislation in the Judiciary Committee to ban police from using a chokehold on suspects.
The Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act was introduced last year by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat.
The legislation had yet to even receive committee consideration, but it appears to be on the fast track. “Expect it to move this month,” a top aide told the Washington Examiner.
Jeffries’s legislation would ban law enforcement from applying “any pressure to the throat or windpipe which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air is a punishment, pain, or penalty.”
The measure would appear to apply to the move used by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to restrain Floyd.
Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes despite Floyd telling officers he was unable to breathe. Floyd’s death has been ruled a homicide. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, and the three other officers are charged with aiding and abetting.
Many police departments have implemented a ban on the use of a chokehold, but it is not prohibited at the federal level and is not always enforced in local police departments.
The bill is named after Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold in 2014 after he was detained for selling cigarettes on a New York City street.
“In the United States of America, not a single individual should ever be choked to death by law enforcement,” Jeffries told the Washington Examiner in a statement. “The use of a choke-hold, or a knee, to the neck or any other tactic that results in strangulation, is unnecessary and unacceptable, uncivilized, unconscionable and un-American. The Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act will make it unlawful.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has not indicated when, or if, the chokehold ban legislation will come up for a floor vote. The next House vote is scheduled for the last day of June. Pelosi said Wednesday the Congressional Black Caucus is working on a legislative response but did not provide details.
On the Senate side, Democrats are planning to propose “bold, bold, change,” according to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.
Schumer said lawmakers are working with the House Congressional Black Caucus “to develop legislation to address a number of issues related to police violence and racial justice.”
Sens. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, Kamala Harris, of California, Ben Cardin, of Maryland, Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, and Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, are among the Democrats leading the effort.
Duckworth is calling on the Senate to take up the Police Training and Independent Review Act, which would require new training for law enforcement and the use of an independent review board to investigate all allegations against police involving the improper use of force.
It would also require the appointment of a state attorney general or special prosecutor from an outside jurisdiction to conduct criminal prosecutions of police use of force.
Republicans blocked immediate passage of the measure earlier this week, but it is likely to be incorporated in the package Democratic leaders plan to push this month.
“This bill would demand that local law enforcement agencies change use of force policies and that every American receives fair treatment under the law,” Duckworth said this week.
Booker wants to create a national registry to record incidents of police misconduct.
The registry is part of comprehensive legislation he plans to propose “to stem the tide of radicalized police violence” and “unchecked bias” in policing.
Booker’s legislation would change the federal statute governing police misconduct to make it more difficult for police to claim immunity and to enable people to sue over misconduct.
Booker would also increase police training and ban religious and racial profiling. Booker’s measure would not ban the chokehold at the federal level but would provide incentives for states to do so.
“Cities are literally on fire with the pain and anguish wrought by the violence visited upon black and brown bodies,” Booker said this week. “There’s no one singular policy change that will fix this issue tomorrow — we need an entire set of holistic reforms to improve police training and practices and ensure greater accountability and transparency.”
The House is controlled by Democrats, making it more likely the party will be able to advance its own reform measures. Republicans control the Senate and have not signaled what kind of reforms they would be willing to consider.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday he will be considering law enforcement reform legislation.
“There may be a role for Congress to play in this as well, and we’ll be talking to our colleagues about what, if anything, is appropriate for us to do in the wake of what is going on,” McConnell said.
The GOP appears poised to advance a measure introduced by the Senate’s only black Republican, Tim Scott.
Scott, of South Carolina, has drafted the Walter Scott Notification Act, which would compel states to track and record the details, including race, of every police shooting. States that failed to track and report the data would lose federal funding.
He first introduced the measure in 2015. It’s named for Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot to death by a white police officer after a traffic stop.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, a top GOP lawmaker and ex-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is a co-sponsor along with Sen. Joni Ernst, who is a member of the Republican leadership, and Sen. James Lankford, of Oklahoma.
“The fact is, without proper data in regards to officer-related shootings, we cannot find lasting solutions in this area,” Scott said Wednesday. “I will continue working in the coming weeks to introduce new solutions around race, justice, and ensuring people of all colors and economic classes have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”
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