As nationwide protests against police brutality enter their third week, Democrats unveiled legislation meant to overhaul policing in the United States. And they wore kente cloth for good measure.
On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the Justice in Policing Act alongside her House and Senate colleagues. NBC News reports that the bill includes a ban of no-knock warrants in drug cases like the one that led to the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, as well as a federal ban on chokeholds, a restraint used against George Floyd before he died in police custody on Memorial Day.
“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,” Congresswoman Karen Bass said. She added that the bill “establishes a bold, transformative vision of policing in America” and boasts more than 200 co-sponsors in the House and the Senate.
The bill—brainchild of Bass, Congressman Jerry Nadler, and Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker—also includes a nationwide mandate of police body cameras, reforms qualified immunity for officers, a ban on military-style weapons for police, a national database of police officers with records of abuse, and more. While the bill is undoubtedly the most aggressive police legislation in decades, nothing in the bill calls for a reduction in police department budgets. This may come as a disappointment to many activists who have been calling for the reallocation of police department budgets, which can drastically dwarf other public services.
But the Democrats are likely more concerned about the bill’s passage than satisfying all of their constituents: There is a Republican majority in the Senate, and Donald Trump is still prattling on about the preservation of law and order in capslock tweets.
But the country is, undoubtedly, in the midst of a seachange with its relationship to the police. Viral videos of innocent protesters being beaten by police officers have soured the reputation of law enforcement and have helped make calls to defund the police more mainstream. (Even calls for abolition seems to be growing louder.)
The deaths of countless unarmed black men, women, and children at the hands of police officers weren’t enough to push politicians to embark on sweeping policy changes. But the death of Floyd and the worldwide protests that followed have, for whatever reason, unleashed the perfect powder keg of catharsis and fury, forcing politicians to grapple with policy in an unprecedented way.
Immediately before the bill was introduced, Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer, and other top Democrats held a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time that former Minneapolis police officer Derrick Chauvin was captured on camera holding Floyd in a neck restraint. Chauvin has since been indicted for second-degree murder.
“When George Floyd called out for his mother, when he was subjected to that knee in the neck, it was just a continuation of some horror that has existed in our country for a very long time,” Pelosi said. She added, “This moment of national anguish is being transformed into a movement of national action as Americans from across the country peacefully protest to demand an end to injustice.”
The Congressional Black Caucus was apparently responsible for this decision, which was meant to memorialize Floyd, but the move still came across as something more suited to a Veep subplot than real life. Considering the importance of the proposed legislation, Democrats could have benefited from losing the theatrics of Pelosi and Schumer decked out in their African best, because the following isn’t what I should be reminded of when politicians are introducing sweeping reform: