Congressional Democrats have introduced their Justice in Policing Act of 2020, a bill that would start the work of holding police accountable and, in their words, “change the culture of law enforcement and build trust between law enforcement and our communities.” That’s not something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has any interest in doing. At all.
On the floor Monday, he dismissed discussion about reforming police departments in the most trollish ways possible. McConnell said of the activism around reforming and defunding the police: “They say other professionals like social workers should be the ones to, quote, respond to crises within our community.” Then he went on to “joke,” saying “call me old-fashioned. I think you may actually want a police officer to stop a criminal and arrest him before we try to work through his feelings.” Leaving the floor, he refused to answer a question about whether there should be national policing standards on tactics like the chokehold that killed George Floyd. His refusal to engage speaks volumes.
McConnell is going to ignore the straightforward reforms included in this bill, and he’s going to create straw men out of the discussion as if Democrats were proposing the total abolishment of law enforcement. Instead, the Democrats are proposing new standards to make the police more accountable. They are not the kinds of far-reaching, systemic reforms that are being talked about in the “defund the police” movement. The bill does some significant things:
- Prohibits federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious and discriminatory profiling, and mandates training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
- Bans chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.
- Mandates the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal offices and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
- Establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave on agency from moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.
- Amends federal criminal statute from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard to successfully identify and prosecute police misconduct.
- Reforms qualified immunity so that individuals are not barred from recovering damages when police violate their constitutional rights.
- Establishes public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just and equitable public safety approaches.
- Creates law enforcement development and training programs to develop best practices and requires the creation of law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations based on President Obama’s Taskforce on 21st Century policing.
- Requires state and local law enforcement agencies to report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, age.
- Improves the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level by granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and creates a grant program for state attorneys general to develop authority to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments.
- Establishes a Department of Justice task force to coordinate the investigation, prosecution and enforcement efforts of federal, state and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct.
None of those things should be at all controversial. None of those things come remotely close to tearing down the nation’s police forces. None of it defunds the police. It would create more accountability and less cover for law enforcement and it would at least limit the militarization of the cops. It’s far from radical, but it would help. McConnell is not even going to go there.
What’s he focusing on this week when the nation is officially in a recession, when the streets are still roiling with righteous protests, and the coronavirus is still wreaking havoc in red states? A public lands bill that vulnerable Republicans Steve Daines, Montana, and Cory Gardner, Colorado, hope can pass to save their asses in November. Not that funding the backlog of infrastructure projects in our national parks isn’t a necessary thing—it’s just not the most pressing issue of the day. It’s not even in the top five pressing issues of the day.