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Rep. Karen Bass speaking during an event on police reform last year at the U.S Capitol. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Rep. Karen Bass speaking during an event on police reform last year at the U.S Capitol. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill of 2021 looking for a major shift from law enforcement in America

The bill passed 219 to 213 on March 3, with no Republicans joining the Democrat majority.

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On Wednesday, March 3, the House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill of 2021, legislation that Democratic lawmakers believe will reduce police violence against people of color, particularly Black Americans, while also improving policing for everyone else. 

“At some point, we have to ask ourselves, how many more people have to die? How many more people have to be brutalized on videotape?” said Rep. Karen Bass, lead sponsor of the bill. “We must act now to transform policing in the United States.” 

The bill succeeded on partisan lines by a vote of 219 to 213, with no Republicans voting with the Democratic majority. 

In June 2020, House Democrats crafted similar legislation in response to the worldwide demonstrations against police brutality that were brought on by the murder of George Floyd by then-Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin. 

Protests continued throughout the Summer in protest of the wrongful deaths of Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, and Rayshard Brooks.

Since then, police brutality against Black Americans has not declined. In the first few months of 2021, police have been responsible for the deaths of at least 23 Black citizens. 

March 3 was also the anniversary of the day that 25-year-old Rodney King was viciously beaten by Los Angeles police after resisting arrest in 1992. 

King's injuries resulted in skull fractures, broken bones, teeth, and permanent brain damage. An amateur photographer captured the scene and submitted the video to a local television station.

The footage of King being beaten, shoved to the ground and tasered sparked an uproar in the city, leading to a six-day period of riots. 

This rage and frustration resulted in 3,000 fires and the destruction of over 1,000 buildings. Widespread looting also began, which caused some people to be injured and even killed. 

It’s unclear whether the passage of the police reform bill was deliberately scheduled for the anniversary of King’s beating, but there are certainly eerie similarities between the cases of King and Floyd, and the demonstrations that followed. 

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act involves several revisions to the current policing system, including an end to qualified immunity, data collection on police misconduct, and limiting the amount of violence police are permitted to use. 

The George Floyd act bars officers from being eligible for qualified immunity, a concept established by the courts that successfully shields public officials from being sued. The doctrine has become one of the main ways for law enforcement to avoid accountability for even the most horrendous forms of misconduct. 

Ordinary people are expected to follow the law, and if they violate the legal rights of another, they can be sued and required to pay for the injuries they’ve caused. Yet, police officers have been evading responsibility for heinous acts, even in cases where the brutality is caught on camera. 

The federal government doesn’t have much data on police misconduct; most databases have been curated by private groups, like Mapping Police Violence

The Justice in Policing Act seeks to expand access to policing data by setting up publicly-accessible databases run by the Justice Department to track use of force and misconduct allegations. 

The database for use of force would contain a detailed report on whether the victim was armed, what the officer was intending to accomplish, and what efforts, if any, the officer took to de-escalate the situation before resorting to violence. 

The bill would also make it illegal for law enforcement to racially profile citizens, mandate that federal law enforcement officers to undergo racial bias training, and require the Department of Justice to design and implement a racial profiling and racial bias training program. 

The bill is cracking down on the amount of violence police are allowed to use, in an attempt to directly address the cause of George Floyd’s death. It would ban the use of chokeholds and carotid holds (which pinch the artery that feeds blood to the brain.) 

To hinder other forms of violence, the bill would prohibit federal officers from using deadly force unless all “reasonable” alternatives have completely been exhausted, including verbal warnings, non-lethal force and de-escalation techniques. 

Other revisions on the bill include strengthening oversight, limiting military equipment, criminalizing sexual misconduct, and mandating the use of body cameras. 

Benjamin Crump and Antonio Romanucci, attorneys in the Floyd case, spoke on behalf of the Floyd family, saying that they are “deeply gratified and grateful” for House leadership, and urged the Senate to pass the bill. 

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