‘George Floyd Justice in Policing Act’ Passed by US House 

On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives passed the most ambitious police reform in decades, for the 2nd time.

3 min read
Image of a Black Lives Matter protest used for representational  purposes.

The US House of Representatives on Wednesday, 3 March, passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act with a vote of 220-212. The bill intends to make prosecution of police misconduct easier, increase federal oversight into local police units, and limit bias among officers.

What Does the Bill Propose?

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, named in Floyd’s honour, aims to ban chokeholds like the kind that led to Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police on 25 May 2020.

The bill also aims to put prohibitions on “qualified immunity” for law enforcement and create national standards for policing in order to increase accountability. “Qualified immunity” is a legal principle that grants protection to government officials performing ‘discretionary’ tasks.

The law would create a national database of police misconduct and require federal law enforcement to use body and dash cameras. 

Where It All Began

On 25 May 2020, George Floyd was arrested by Minneapolis Police after a convenience store employee suspected the 46-year-old man to have used a counterfeit bill and called 911. What followed were a series of fatal actions by the police that led to Floyd’s death. Derek Chauvin, the officer who kept a knee on Floyd’s neck for at least 7 minutes, was later charged with second-degree and third-degree manslaughter.

What followed were worldwide demonstrations against police brutality on African Americans, sustained by the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, and Rayshard Brooks.

A version of the bill was passed by the House of Representatives in June 2020 by a vote of 236-181, just one month after Floyd was killed. However, since the Democrats developed their bill without input from the Republicans, the bill came to a stand-off in the Senate.

Before the House vote took place on 25 June 2020, Head Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “Americans from every walk of life and corner of the country have been marching, protesting and demanding that this moment of national agony become one of national action.”

“Today, with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the House is honouring his life and the lives of all killed by police brutality, and pledging: never again.”
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker, United States House of Representatives

Police Unions’ Argument

Several police unions and law enforcement groups have argued that placing such prohibitions in place that take away legal protection of law enforcement officers will instil fear of lawsuits and discourage people from becoming police officers.

How is Intention Measured?

The California Congresswoman Karen Bass, who authored the bill, called provisions limiting qualified immunity “the only measures that hold police accountable, that will actually decrease the number of times we have to see people killed on videotape.”

As reported by Vox, the bill also rewrites the federal law on abuse of power, US Code Title 18, Section 242. To prove abuse of power, a prosecutor needs to prove that an officer “wilfully” deprived someone of their rights. However, it is hard to prove someone’s intention.

So the bill changes the word “wilfully” to “knowingly or recklessly,” which essentially requires the prosecutor to prove that the conduct by an officer was an extreme departure from the caution a reasonable officer would exercise.


Final Stretch

The bill needs to get a minimum of 60 votes to pass in the Senate. Congresswoman Karen Bass remains hopeful and said that she had been in contact with South Carolina senator Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in chamber, hoping he would help deliver some GOP support.

However, Scott said individual officers need to be protected and prohibiting qualified immunity crosses a red line for him. He added, “Hopefully we’ll come up with something that actually works.”

The bill also has the backing of the POTUS, who had also tweeted in its support.

(With inputs from The Guardian and Vox)

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