Outrage Over Police Brutality: Who Will Win the Battle for Justice?

Outrage Over Police Brutality: Who Will Win the Battle for Justice?

San Francisco to New York. Portland to Baltimore. From Boston to Los Angeles, and everything in between.

Protesters flocked to the streets again over the weekend to condemn police brutality following the release of footage recording the vicious Memphis police beating that resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, 29.

Nichols’ family counsel noted the fury in a short but pointed message to Washington on Sunday morning.

“It will be a shame if we don’t use [Nichols’] tragic death to ultimately pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” Ben Crump stated on AWN’s “State of Union.”

President Joe Biden mentioned the failed legislation in his statement about Nichols on Friday, and many leaders are acknowledging a potential role for federal legislation, including the chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.

The Congressional Black Caucus has asked Biden to meet with them this week in order to press for discussions. “We are urging our colleagues in the House and Senate to begin negotiations immediately and join us in addressing the public health crisis of police violence that disproportionately affects many of our communities,” CBC Chair Steven Horsford, a Nevada Democrat, said in a statement on Sunday.

During a press conference in Memphis on Sunday evening, Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the Tennessee State Conference NAACP, urged Congress to take action. “By failing to create and pass measures to end police violence, you’re writing another Black man’s obituary. You have the blood of Black America on your hands. So get up and get to work.”

However, with Congress as divided as ever, it appears that public fury is once again colliding with Washington partisanship.

Here’s all you need to know about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, why it failed, and how it would fare in the present political context.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is what it sounds like.

The measure, first submitted in 2020 and then again in 2021, would create a national record of police misbehaviour to prevent officers from avoiding penalties for their crimes by relocating to another jurisdiction.

It would prohibit racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as revise qualified immunity, a legal term that critics argue shields law enforcement from accountability.

The measure would also allow “individuals to collect damages in civil court when law enforcement personnel violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement,” according to a fact sheet on the legislation at the time.

According to the fact sheet, the measure would “save lives by prohibiting chokeholds and no-knock warrants” and would require “deadly force be used only as a last resort.”
What became of it?

The bill passed the House under Democratic rule twice, in 2020 and 2021, mostly along party lines. But it never got off the ground in the Senate, even when Democrats took power in 2021, due in part to concerns over qualified immunity, which protects police personnel from civil lawsuits.

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina spent six months attempting to reach an agreement that might garner 60 votes in the Senate, but negotiations were hampered by a number of technical concerns.

“It was evident at this negotiation table, right now, that we weren’t making progress,” Booker told reporters in the spring of 2021. “In fact, recent back-and-forth with paper revealed to me that we were actually moving away from it. The negotiations we were having came to an end. But the work will go on.”

On the second anniversary of Floyd’s killing, Biden signed a more limited executive order to modernise policing. It took various moves applicable to federal officers, such as initiatives to ban chokeholds, extend the use of body-worn cameras, and limit no-knock warrants, among other things.

However, the president cannot compel local law enforcement to implement the measures outlined in his executive order; rather, the executive action outlines levers that the federal government might use, such as federal funding and technical support, to encourage local law enforcement to comply.

And little has changed on the federal legislative front since then.
Can it now pass?

The reality is that the route to police reform has just become more difficult in the new Congress, now that House Republicans, who have prioritised other issues, are in the majority.

Senate Democrats added one member to their majority in last year’s midterm elections, but they are still far short of the 60 votes required for such an endeavour to succeed. That implies that any policing change the receives serious support in Congress will almost certainly be shorn of the kinds of steps that demonstrators are demanding.
Is there any progress being made?

State officials have begun inquiries into local police units, recognising that the federal government cannot handle every issue on a national scale.

Local governments have also taken action in some circumstances. At least 25 states considered qualified immunity reform in the year following Floyd’s death. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed into law a variety of police reforms in 2021, including a mechanism to decertify law enforcement officials found to have engaged in serious misbehaviour, bringing California into line with the majority of states that have such decertification authorities.

However, for many, it is insufficient. Read this AWN Opinion post by retired Montgomery County, Maryland, police captain Sonia Pruitt:

“Many have compared the police assault on Nichols to that of Rodney King, a Black man whose beating at the hands of Los Angeles police officers in 1991 was documented on camera. But Nichols’ beating is even worse because it demonstrates that, after nearly 32 years, the needle of police reform has scarcely moved, and seemingly minor traffic violations continue to result in the deaths of Black and other minority men and women in police confrontations.”

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