Home Nonviolent defense Despite protests, Congress is slow to push forward with police reform bills

Despite protests, Congress is slow to push forward with police reform bills

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  • Elements of the BREATHE Act have evolved into new bills like the Police Justice Act and others.
  • Written by activists, the bill proposes to redirect police funding towards community measures.
  • The legislation is designed to prevent black youth from clashing with the criminal justice system.
  • Visit the Insider home page for more stories.

At the table, in Congress and in the force, police reform is a major debate today. This is the second part of a series on Reimagining Public Safety. Click on here to read the first part, the story of a cop who became an activist.

The Black Lives Matter movement garnered incredible support after the murder of unarmed Minneapolis man George Floyd in May of last year.

Data and polls show that between 15 and 26 million attendees took part in the Black Lives Matter protests in this month alone, making it one of the largest movements in U.S. history.

As a result, calls for police funding increased, as black people – Jacob Blake, Helen Jones, Daunte Wright and others – continued to fall victim to violent and often fatal shootings by police. These calls eventually evolved into legislation that centers reform measures aimed at uplifting black communities.

Last year, for example, organizers of the Black Lives Movement drafted the BREATHE Act, widely recognized as the most comprehensive public safety reform bill to date.

Supported by progressive representatives Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, the BREATHE Act addresses a wide range of systemic issues, such as the racial wealth gap, educational inequalities and unaffordable housing. The proposal also calls for large police funds – normally earmarked for defense and the fight against drugs, for example – to be cut.

Rather, that money would be redistributed into community-based measures designed to disrupt and ideally prevent black youth from interacting with the criminal justice system. This means that hospitals, schools, parks and violence interruption programs would receive significant funding increases.

“We know that community organizations – churches, places of worship, your local underfunded community center – play a huge role in keeping communities safe,” Gina Clayton-Johnson, the lead brain of the proposal, told Insider. . “They need the support and the dollars and this bill would provide them with that.”

But the bill is unlikely to pass through Congress. Even with a Democratic stronghold in Congress and the White House, the party remains divided on the scope of reform measures. The moderates did not endorse large bills to adopt much more refined solutions.

The House, for example, passed the Justice in Policing Act, a bill that also follows Floyd’s murder. The law deals with misconduct, excessive force and racial prejudice on the part of officers and cancels qualified immunity.

House Democrats voted to pass it unanimously, along with three Republicans.

But the legislation does little to address community reform or police funds – and critics see it as significantly less thorough than the BREATHE law.

The bill is now awaiting a vote in the Senate. But even with a singular focus and less dramatic reform measures, the Police Justice Act is unlikely to pass in the upper house. Republicans have already blocked the bill.

“The obstacle is the Senate,” Representative Karen Bass, who sponsored the bill, said recently of NPR. “It’s the obstacle with every bill because of the filibuster.”

Lawmakers lack motivation to pass police reform bills

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Then-candidate for the United States House of Representatives Democrat Cori Bush poses for a portrait after defeating incumbent Representative William Lacy Clay in their primary election in St. Louis, Missouri, United States on August 5, 2020

Lawrence Bryant / Reuters


The data shows that there is strong voter support for both the Police Justice Act and the BREATHE Act. A Vox poll conducted last month found that 51% of respondents said they support the BREATHE law.

The Justice in Policing Act – with 66% support – is even more popular.

While not yet officially presented to Congress, the BREATHE Act is already beginning to reimagine and reshape public safety.

In June, for example, Representative Cori Bush proposed the People’s Response Act. Clayton-Johnson calls Bush’s bill “an incredibly exciting joint of BREATHE.”

“This makes up almost all of Section 2,” she said, referring to mandates which state that the federal government distribute grants to state and local governments to advance police reform at high levels. more micro.

The support would encourage state and local agencies to redirect funds from traditional public safety systems like police services to “alternative public safety infrastructures” that enhance community building, Clayton-Johnson said.

Bush believes the People’s Response Act would dramatically transform the response to calls for help. A trained medical professional, for example, would answer a call from a mentally ill person, “rather than an officer with a gun,” Bush told Insider.

The legislation “builds a world where people don’t have to be afraid of what might happen if they cry out for help,” the Missouri representative added.

Even President Joe Biden has pledged to enact a series of reforms contained in the BREATHE Act, including ending mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes.

End institutional violence and inequalities against people of color

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Protesters gather at the Lincoln Memorial during a protest against racial inequalities in the aftermath of the death in custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Washington, the United States, June 6, 2020.

Carlos Barria / Reuters



The goal of legislative reforms such as the BREATHE Act and the Popular Response Act, advocates say, is to reduce support for institutions that target people of color and depend on continued racism for their existence.

Ideally, community supports will break, in part, the cycle of mass incarceration that plunges millions of blacks into a life of poverty and stigma.

“You give someone a job, you give someone access to health care, you give someone access to mental health care and the opportunity to access healing as a result of trauma, and violence is prevented and stopped, ”Clayton-Johnson said.

“We know that,” she added. “And yet our approaches always seemed to be to tackle something with a cell or with handcuffs and it just didn’t work.”

Under the BREATHE law, everything changes. Ultimately and hopefully, Clayton-Johnson said, this will end the dismantling of the police system in the United States as we know it.

“Am I for someone’s job? No, absolutely not,” she added, saying she envisions a world in which people pursuing a career in criminal justice have expanded options like becoming a social worker or a violence switch.

“What it is is a review of how we provide security in this country,” she said.

But the BREATHE Act is more than the elimination of the police system.

It presents a holistic plan for building community structures that provide mental health services and uplift individuals. Advocates say an effort to eliminate racial inequality that stems strongly from traditional public safety procedures.