WASHINGTON, D.C. - Like millions of Americans, Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03) was saddened, angered, and horrified by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Phillips believes law enforcement should bring peace to our comminutes, not violence, yet we continue to witness unspeakable acts of police misconduct and abuse – especially directed at people of color. Representation begins with listening, and Phillips is speaking with police chiefs, Black Minnesotans, faith leaders, local elected officials, parents, teachers, and experts about the ways in which Americans can come together to seriously address the inequities in our criminal justice system and focus on saving lives rather than ending them.
We mistook quiet for peace for too long and have a window of opportunity to enact meaningful change that won't stay open forever, which is why Phillips joined the Congressional Black Caucus and a majority of the House of Representatives in voting to pass H.R. 7120, The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act this week. The legislation is a beginning and is designed to hold police accountable, change the culture of law enforcement, and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve in the following ways:
- Make Policing Safer – The bill would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, two practices that have been directly responsible for the tragic deaths of American citizens. In addition, the legislation would require that police officers use deadly force only as a last resort and would keep unnecessary, military-grade equipment out of state and local law enforcement.
- Change the Culture of Law Enforcement – The bill would prohibit racial and religious profiling, fund new training programs, and create a national accreditation system for police departments.
- Improve Transparency – The bill would create a nationwide police misconduct registry to prevent problematic officers from quietly moving from one jurisdiction to another. The bill would also improve data collection so we can better track the use of force by police departments across the country, and it would require that uniformed officers wear body cameras.
- Improve Accountability – The bill would make it easier to hold police officers accountable for misconduct by ending “qualified immunity” for law enforcement. Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that shields police officers from liability in court, even in many cases where they have clearly violated a citizen’s civil rights. The bill would also strengthen civil rights investigations at both the federal and state level.
s Innovation – The bill establishes grants for communities who wish to develop new, innovative approaches to public safety.
On June 17, the Senate introduced its own proposal for policing reform, S. 3985, the JUSTICE Act. Like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the JUSTICE Act would enhance data collection and database sharing, and it requires that all uniformed officers wear body cameras. However, many of the provisions in the Justice in Policing Act are not contained in the Senate bill, including:
- A ban on racial and religious profiling
- A ban on choke-holds and no-knock warrants
- A national registry of police misconduct
- National accreditation standards for police departments
- An end to qualified immunity for law enforcement
- Support for civil rights investigations at the federal and state level
Frequently Asked Questions:
- Does the Justice in Policing Act Defund the Police?
No. The Justice in Policing Act addresses police brutality and racial injustice through comprehensive reform. The bill does not make cuts to police budgets nor advocate for defunding.
- What is Qualified Immunity?
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine created by the Supreme Court that shields public employees, including police officers, or violations of Americans’ constitutional rights. In order for a victim to win their case against an officer, they must show that the actions of that officer violated a “clearly established” right. In other words, the victim must show that another officer was found liable for the same behavior in a different case. If no such precedent exists, then the police officer will not be held accountable for their actions, even if it is evident that they violated the law. Qualified immunity is not based in legislation or the Constitution, and it can be addressed by a simple act of Congress.