Dem Bill To Outlaw Chokeholds, No-Knock Raids, 'Qualified Immunity' For Bad Cops, What A Bunch Of Republicans
House Democrats introduced an important police reform bill yesterday. The "Justice in Policing Act" was unveiled by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders, but first, Pelosi asked the legislators to kneel for a moment of silence lasting eight minutes and 46 seconds. That's how long now-fired Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin had his knee pressed into George Floyd's neck, until Floyd was dead.
Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina, said during the press conference that followed,
Think about how long that is, how many generations that is. It's a long time. Eight minutes and 46 seconds. That's a long time to be on one knee, but for 244 years, there were plenty knees on the necks of blacks who came to this country.
While some people complained that the kneeling (in Kente cloth handed out by the Congressional Black Caucus; The Root just had a good belly laugh) was only optics, what generally got ignored was the reform package itself, which includes a number of measures that have been longtime lost causes until maybe now. While the Justice in Policing Act doesn't erase the entire concept of policing from history, until police are defunded, the bill would fix some lethal shit. It would:
- Make it easier to sue police officers for civil rights abuses, and for using excessive force (that "qualified immunity" you keep hearing about this week)
- Create a nationwide, publicly searchable database of police officers fired for misconduct
- Expand the Justice Department's ability to investigate allegations of police misconduct
- Give the DOJ's Civil Rights Division subpoena power for "pattern and practice" investigations of police departments (a type of investigation the Trump DOJ has stopped doing altogether)
- Declare lynching a federal crime, finally
- End the transfer of military-grade weapons to local police departments
- Ban choke holds and some no-knock warrants in federal policing, and encourage states to do the same by withholding federal funding if they don't
Those last two (okay all of them) are incredibly important. A national ban on choke holds might have prevented uncountable police murders — and if it didn't, because police still break the law, would have made it easier to get justice for those they killed, and to get those cops off the street — and a ban on no-knock warrants could have provided time for Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend to tell police they were trying to arrest someone who wasn't even in the house.
No-knock warrants have been brutalizing the public — especially the African-American public — since they were first proposed back in 1970. Radley Balko, author of The Rise of the Warrior Cop, has made a career of fighting against no-knock warrants. This is important, possibly the most important single measure in the bill. It's an idea whose time may finally arrived. Last year, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo ended the use of most no-knock warrants after police shot and killed a married couple in a no-knock raid; they burst into a home that an informant had claimed was used for heroin dealing, but nope, no heroin, just two dead people and five injured police. The cops broke down the door and shot the couple's dog, and then there was a shootout after the man opened fire on the unidentified home invaders.
Similarly, after Taylor's killing, the Louisville Metro Council is close to passing "Breonna's Law," which would strictly limit no-knock warrants only to cases where there's
an "imminent threat of harm or death," and only for cases involving murder, hostage-taking, kidnapping, terrorism, human trafficking and sexual trafficking.
No-knock warrants would not be allowed for narcotics warrants like the one used in the raid that killed Taylor. Half the members of the council said they'd be willing to go even farther and ban no-knock warrants altogether.
And let's not forget all the times cops with no-knock warrants have shot family pets and injured or killed people. Then there's the Georgia case that still nauseates me: In 2014, cops burst into a home and fired a stun grenade to shock and awe the drug dealers they were certain were inside a home. The guy they wanted wasn't home, and the grenade landed in a crib where a 19-month-old baby was sleeping, severely burning the little boy's face. One sheriff's deputy was charged in the case, but he was acquitted of lying to investigators; no one at all was charged in the assault itself, because we must be kept safe from crime and accidents happen.
So yes, eliminating or at least strictly limiting no-knock warrants is a hell of a big deal.
We're also very much in favor of the proposal to create a national database of officers who've been fired for brutality, racism, or other misconduct. It's similar to a standalone bill, introduced in the Senate by Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), which aims at making sure cops who get fired for being unfit to be on the streets can't just move to a new location and get another job in law enforcement. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said such legislation "should already exist," and she's right — it was first proposed by Human Rights Watch 20 years ago.
In a major investigation last year, USA Today found that police misconduct is frequently "filed away, rarely seen by anyone outside their departments," thanks to the efforts, in part, of police unions. (And holycrap can we see some proposals to break their power to protect bad cops?) Using some 85,000 misconduct cases, the newspaper constructed its own database of police disciplinary records, but the public shouldn't have to rely on the good work of journalists to do that sort of thing, especially since the USA Today list is limited by the records its journalists could get their hands on; for instance, its records search only covered 44 states.
Even so, using the results of that partial search, USA Today also found at least 32 cops who lost their jobs for misconduct, but then went on to become police chiefs or sheriffs, which is the sort of failing upward that simply shouldn't be tolerated in law enforcement.
As you may recall, the cop who shot and killed Tamir Rice in 2014 had been fired by a smaller Ohio police force before hiring on in Cleveland — albeit for general incompetence, not outright misconduct. Then again, even that notorious officer managed to get yet another job in policing, because he was never indicted. So the real benefit of a national database may be the fact that it would be publicly searchable: If police departments won't screen out bad cops, maybe the public will.
The current legislative package is sponsored in the House by Rep. Karen Bass (California) and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (New York). In the Senate, it's being sponsored by Kamala Harris (California) and Cory Booker (New Jersey). Nadler said yesterday that there's no doubt the House version will pass; he added that he's been seeking Republican support, and made a "100 percent guarantee" that the package would become law, if not this year, then next: "This bill will become law, if not now, then Senate Majority Leader Schumer and President Biden will sign it in January," he said.
Let's not jinx it, but hell yeah, let's make that happen.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.