One Year After George Floyd’s Death, No Major Federal Policing Reform Has Passed Congress
Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

One year ago today, former police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd after kneeling on the neck of the 46-year-old Black man for over nine minutes.

Much of the world erupted in protest, with renewed calls that “Black Lives Matter,” and the concepts of abolition and defunding the police entered in the mainstream.

But what policies and reforms have materialized since the fatal police killing?

Dozens of cities have moved ahead to lower police budgets, with the 50 largest cities reducing their 2021 policing budgets by 5.2%, according to the advocacy organization Interrupting Criminalization. However, federal legislation is still pending.

Here’s a breakdown of two prominent federal proposals, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (H.R. 7120), which passed the House, and the BREATHE Act, model legislation drafted by the Movement for Black Lives and supported by Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. It has yet to be introduced in the House.

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George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (JPA)

What would it do?

  • Establish a framework to prevent and remedy racial profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels.
  • Limit the unnecessary use of force and restrict no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid holds.
  • Create a national registry—the National Police Misconduct Registry—to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct. It also establishes new reporting requirements, including on the use of force, officer misconduct, and routine policing practices (e.g., stops and searches).
  • Direct the DOJ to create uniform accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies
  • Require law enforcement officers to complete training on racial profiling, implicit bias, and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force.
  • Lower the criminal intent standard—from willful to knowing or reckless—to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution.
  • Limit qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer.
  • Grant administrative subpoena power to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in pattern-or-practice investigations.

What proponents say

The JPA “raises the standards of the profession, and I believe that that’s the most important thing for us to accomplish…having said that, the day after President Biden signs this bill, there is still so much more that needs to be done. We need to address the root causes of a lot of problems that take place in communities…”— lead sponsor of the JPA, Congresswoman Karen Bass (Democrat -CA 37th District)

What critics say

The JPA funds $750 million to the Attorney General “to investigate the deadly use of force by law enforcement. Protesters have been demanding to defund the police to keep us safe; not spend millions of dollars to investigate how we die. We know how we die – the police.” –Derecka Purnell, attorney and abolitionist

BREATHE Act

What would it do?

  • Eliminate federal programs , like the Department of Defense 1033 program, and agencies used to finance and expand the U.S. criminal-legal system.
  • Make recommendations to dramatically reduce the Department of Defense budget
  • Change policing, prosecution, sentencing, and jailing practices, including abolishing the three strikes law and abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
  • Repeal and replace the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (known popularly as “the crime bill”).
  • Offer a 50% federal match for projected savings when States and other jurisdictions close local jails, State prisons, and youth prisons.
  • Fund non-carceral interventions that improve community safety.
  • Allocate money for communities, including to establish a grant to promote educational justice, establish a grant to promote environmental justice, establish a grant to promote health and family justice, establish a competitive housing and infrastructure grant program.
  • Enhance self-determination of Black communities, including passing H.R. 40 to study reparations proposals and ensuring democratic voting processes.

What proponents say

“Organizers are rightfully calling for deep, lasting structural change, because the death, destruction, denial of Black people and our humanity is not new.  Our communtities have been making these demands for decades, and for too long policymakers have chosen not to listen,” – Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (Democrat- MA 7th District)

What critics say

“The flaws in our criminal justice system should be fixed, but the system should not be razed to the ground. The BREATHE Act instead aims to reshape our whole society in the disguise of a criminal justice bill.” — Congressman Morgan Griffith  (Republican-VA 9th District)

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