Peaceful marchers. Confrontational agitators. Regardless of how you see it, there is growing evidence that the general public’s patience with brutal police tactics has run out. Large demonstrations across the country have called for police reforms, and Monday Democrats in Congress presented their response: the Justice in Policing Act.
“Black Americans live in fear of police interactions,” Sen. Cory Booker said. “Black Americans disproportionally have our rights violated. Black Americans disproportionally and unjustifiably experience violence at the hands of the police. […] Knowledge of this and acknowledgement of this is necessary but it is not enough. Empathy, sympathy, and words of caring for those who have died and suffered are necessary, but it’s not enough.”
The bill is wide-ranging and covers everything from the difference between “knowing” and “willfull” police misconduct to requiring the use of deescalation tactics and banning choke holds. The bill would also ban no-knock warrants like the one that led to the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. It would require national recordkeeping of deadly police incidents, require body cameras and provide incentives for state and local police departments to enact reforms.
State Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) announced legislation Monday to track use of police force cases statewide and provide whistleblower protections.
“I have a grandson. I have a son. My daughter. I have family members that I want to protect — even myself. You know, I can get pulled over and end up like a Sandra Bland or a Breonna Taylor,” McKnight said.
“And the police have to be deconstructed and reconstructed,” said Larry Hamm, chairman for the People’s Organization for Progress.
But there is increasing talk across the country now about “defunding” the police. Lawmakers in Washington didn’t discuss that with any specificity Monday, and it’s tough to get a full definition of what that would mean. But, in general, there is a sense that police need to have less, expensive military gear and not always be the first recourse in every situation.
“How many times do we respond to emotionally disturbed persons and our police officers are handling it. They receive some training but they’re not professionals,” said Bloomfield Public safety director Samuel DeMaio. “How many times do we deal with the homeless on the street, so maybe there is a portion of the things that we do that would be best suited to be handled by social professionals, or psychologists, or whatever it may through the health department of a municipality. But to defund the police, it’s just ridiculous. It’s political nonsense.”
The federal bill is expected to get approval in the Democratic-controlled House, but faces a tougher battle in the Senate and an unknown fate from a president who’s called for more law and order, and not less policing. It’s unclear if the president believes, as many activists do, that the consensus across the country when it comes to policing is changing.