Pelosi, Dems unveil bill to overhaul policing

US House democrats take a knee on Capitol Hill in respect to George Floyd.
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Franklin Izuchukwu

Democrats have unveiled a sweeping police reform bill banning no-knock warrants in drug cases, and the use of chokeholds.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Black Caucus announced the Justice in Policing Act at the Capitol on Monday, after taking a knee for eight minutes to honour George Floyd.

The sweeping legislation seemed to be a direct response to nationwide protests after the deaths of Floyd, who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck, and Breonna Taylor shot dead by police in Louisville, Kentucky asleep in her home.

Earlier on Monday, President Donald Trump hit out at "radical left Democrats" for wanting to "defund and abolish" the police.

"LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE," Trump tweeted.

"The Radical Left Democrats have gone crazy!"

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden issued a statement moments after the Justice in Policing Act was announced.

"Biden does not believe that police should be defunded," campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said.

"He hears and shares the deep grief and frustration of those calling out for change, and is driven to ensure that justice is done and that we put a stop to this terrible pain. Biden supports the urgent need for reform..."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Black Caucus announced the Justice in Policing Act at the Capitol

Before unveiling the package, House and Senate Democrats held a moment of silence at the Capitol's Emancipation Hall, reading the names of George Floyd and others killed during police interactions.

They knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — now a symbol of police brutality and violence — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd was pinned under a white police officer's knee before he died.

"We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change," Pelosi said, drawing on the nation's history of slavery.

The Justice in Policing Act would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents and ban police chokeholds, among other changes, according to an early draft.

It is the most ambitious change to law enforcement sought by Congress in years.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is leading the effort, said called it "bold" and "transformative."

"The world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in this country," Bass said.

They knelt for almost nine minutes, the length of time Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's death

Tens of thousands of demonstrators nationwide have been protesting in the streets since Floyd was killed May 25 for an end to police violence.

"A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession where you have highly trained officers that are accountable to the public," Bass said.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were among the Democrats at the Capitol on Monday

The package confronts several aspects of law enforcement accountability, and practices that have come under criticism, especially as more and more police violence is captured on cell phone video and shared widely across the nation, and the world.

The proposed legislation would revise the federal criminal police misconduct statute to make it easier to prosecute officers who are involved in misconduct "knowingly or with reckless disregard."

US House Democrat from Texas; Al green.

The package would also change "qualified immunity" protections for police "to enable individuals to recover damages when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights," it says.

The legislation would seek to provide greater oversight and transparency of police behaviour in several ways.

It would grant subpoena power to the Justice Department to conduct "pattern and practice" investigations of potential misconduct and help states conduct independent investigations.

It would also ban racial profiling and boost requirements for police body cameras.

And it would create a "National Police Misconduct Registry," a database to try to prevent officers from transferring from one department to another with past misconduct undetected, the draft said.

Two weeks of protests followed the death of George Floyd on May 25

A long-sought federal anti-lynching bill stalled in Congress is included in the package.

However, the package stops short calls by leading activists to "defund the police," a push to dismantle or reduce financial resources to police departments that have struck new intensity in the weeks of protests since Floyd's death.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a co-author with Bass and the Democratic senators, will convene a hearing on the legislation Wednesday.

Breonna Taylor died on March 13 when police officers fired rounds into her home in a case of mistaken identity

It is unclear if law enforcement and the powerful police unions will back any of the proposed changes or if congressional Republicans will join the effort.

It comes one day after it was announced that Minneapolis officials would vote to disband the city's beleaguered police department in the wake of Floyd's death.

Also over the weekend, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said funds from the NYPD's $6billion budget would be cut.

On Sunday, De Blasio said the city would shift funding from the NYPD to youth and social services amongst other sweeping changes.

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