In the moments after Judge Peter Cahill read the guilty verdicts in the Derek Chauvin trial, President Joe Biden called the Floyd family to promise to push for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
This hotly debated legislation would affect how police handle prisoners, make it easier to successfully sue abusive officers and cut police departments off from the supply of military-grade equipment that they say they need to stay safe.
H.R. 7120 cleared the House of Representatives in the heat of the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020 but the legislation died in the Senate. Even in the House, the vote was a close 220-212 — with no Republican support and two Democrats voting no — so passage is by no means assured. Republicans responded to the failed act with their own legislation, but it stalled, too.
If Congress cannot pass this legislation, states may try to take it on themselves. Texas already considered it and met stiff opposition from police. And where states cannot pass such laws, cities might. New York City has started down that path.
Now with Biden behind the bill, and in the backwash of the Chauvin verdict, it is once again high profile. It is difficult to know, this early, whether the three guilty verdicts will give H.R. 7120 momentum or whether it will have the opposite effect of reducing the urgency to act.
The bill requires all law enforcement to undergo training “on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.” It also:
Bans chokeholds and carotid holds at the federal level and conditions law enforcement funding for state and local governments banning chokeholds.
Requires that deadly force be used only as a last resort and requires officers to employ de-escalation techniques first.
Changes the standard to evaluate whether law enforcement use of force was justified from whether the force was “reasonable” to whether the force was “necessary.”
Bans no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level and conditions law enforcement funding for state and local governments banning no-knock warrants at the local and state level.
The legislation, backed by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), also would limit local police departments’ access to military-grade equipment that protestors say increases tensions during demonstrations.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act also would require “federal uniformed police officers to wear body cameras and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.” Marked federal police vehicles would be required to have dashboard cameras.
One of the most controversial parts of the law “enables individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement.”
And the bill “creates a nationwide police misconduct registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave one agency, from moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.”
The White House says this is President Biden’s top police reform priority. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was a co-sponsor of the act, said, “Today we feel a sigh of relief. Still, it cannot take away the pain. A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice. This verdict brings us a step closer and, the fact is, we still have work to do. We still must reform the system.”
“This bill,” she said, “is part of George Floyd’s legacy.”