On Wednesday, March 3, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act by a vote of 220-212. The vote comes nine months after Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed by Minneapolis police officers last spring.
Clare Foran of CNN reported that “House Democrats originally introduced and passed the bill — titled the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — last year in the wake of Floyd’s death, but it never passed in the Senate, which was under Republican control at the time.”
According to Foran, “supporters of the bill say it would improve law enforcement accountability and work to root out racial bias in policing.”
Although Democrats now control the Senate, it’s current 50-50 partisan split may prevent the bill from being passed and becoming law. Even with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tiebreaker, the chamber would still require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and ensure the bill’s final approval.
In an interview following the House vote, Rep. Karen Bass of California who has spearheaded the police reform efforts said “We are still trying to transform policing in the United States,” adding that she was “confident that we will be able to have a bipartisan bill in the Senate that will reach President Biden’s desk.”
If passed, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would establish a national registry where police misconduct could be tracked; would ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels; and would place limits on a legal concept called “qualified immunity” which is sometimes used to help shield law enforcement officials from facing full accountability for their actions. It would also pave the way for “individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement.” Most importantly for many criminal justice advocates, the legislation would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, mandating that “deadly force be used only as a last resort.”
Although Bass told reporters she remained hopeful the bill would gain greater support in the Senate this year vs. when it originally went up for a vote last year, a final prediction on how votes might ultimately fall is unknown. Three Republicans crossed party lines and voted in favor of the bill in 2020, but one of those senators — Will Hurd of Texas — has since retired, so the bill still faces an uphill battle.
In regards to ongoing negotiations with his Republican cohorts in the Senate, Sen. Tim Scott said in a press conference earlier this week, “I’m talking to both sides and hopefully we’ll come up with something that actually works.”
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is also facing opposition from a number of left-leaning organizations who believe that it doesn’t go far enough to ensure the level of reform they believe America’s policing system requires.
Following the House vote, Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), released a statement saying: “While we understand the urgency to pass police reform at the federal level, we can’t do it in a way that merely provides a veneer of justice while sacrificing real systemic change at the most opportune moment to achieve it. Unfortunately, because House leadership chose to fast-track last year’s bill, rather than addressing advocates’ and community members’ concerns, that’s exactly the compromise they have made, and today’s vote solidified those failings.”
Perez also criticized the current bill’s lack of real reform and full accountability. “This bill fails to fully address issues like police militarization and quick-knock raids, policing practices that are disproportionately used against people of color in drug investigations,” she said. “While the bill places restrictions on programs that facilitate the transfer of military equipment to local police departments, it does not outright put an end to such programs. And while this bill prohibits no-knock warrants for drug cases, it does not outlaw quick-knock raids which can be just as deadly.”
Perez also noted that “the bill continues to fund police departments and the war on drugs, rather than shift resources to education, housing, harm reduction services and other infrastructure that strengthens communities and increases public safety.”
Her statement ends by saying, “The seriousness of this moment demands real reform, and the House bill is sadly a far shot from that. We call on the Senate to rectify these shortcomings by working alongside advocates and community members to craft a comprehensive police reform bill that will hold law enforcement accountable, protect our communities and ensure dignity and respect for Black, Latinx and Indigenous lives.”