WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats are pushing a police reform bill that doesn't directly address the confrontation in Buffalo last week in which a police officer shoved protester Martin Gugino to the ground, leaving him bleeding on the pavement – but the proposal includes provisions aimed at preventing similar situations.
The measure would narrow the circumstances in which police officers could use force, and would make it easier for victims and prosecutors to go after those that do so inappropriately. In addition, the bill would make it easier to root out bad cops and prevent them from getting rehired if they lose their jobs.
Called "The Justice in Policing Act," the measure also would bar officers from holding a suspect in any way that could restrict the flow of blood to the brain -- such as the way a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd's neck, thereby killing him. Similarly, the measure bans no-knock drug search warrants and requires police officers to wear body cameras.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer Monday joined several colleagues in announcing the measure, which is likely to pass the Democratic House later this month only to face trouble in the Republican-controlled Senate.
"Americans who took to the streets this week have demanded change," Schumer said. "With this legislation, Democrats are heeding their calls."
While protesters nationwide have demanded that cities "defund the police" – that is, cut police funding and shift that money to social programs – the Democratic bill would affect police funding in minimal ways. It would force police departments to collect and report detailed use-of-force data, and it would require them to use federal funding on body cameras rather than other purposes. It would also limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to local police departments.
Even so, rather than reacting directly to the bill, top Republicans accused Democrats of wanting to cut police funding.
"LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE," President Trump tweeted. "The Radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!"
Similarly, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted: "To the police officers across the country who put on the uniform every day and uphold their oath -- THANK YOU. Democrats want to defund you, but Republicans will never turn our backs on you."
In general, though, the Democratic bill is filled with less controversial measures. It would change federal guidance so that instead of saying officers are justified in using force when doing so is "reasonable," the law would say officers should use force only when it is "necessary."
The bill also would make it easier for federal prosecutors to pursue police misconduct cases and for victims of police brutality to sue.
In addition, the bill establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry, which would be aimed at preventing "problem officers" from moving from one police department to another.
The bill also includes a federal ban on choke holds, which Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, first proposed last week. Gillibrand named her bill after Eric Garner, a New York City man who died in 2014 during an arrest in which a police officer used a choke hold on him.
"George Floyd and Eric Garner should be alive," Gillibrand said. "These are just two of the countless men and women lost to our severely failed criminal justice system in America."
Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, stressed that the measure could change before becoming law.
"This is a starting point, not an end point," Higgins said. "It represents a very substantial statement of support for reforming policing."
Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican, said the Democratic proposal "defunds the police" by threatening to withhold federal funding from police departments that don't comply with federal mandates and by barring them from access to equipment provided by the federal government.
He said the House Problem Solvers Caucus, which he co-chairs, might help develop a better reform proposal.
"If we can get leadership to compromise and move off of this extreme proposal that seems to be driven by the extreme portion of the left, I think there's a way we can actually come together and do some good for the American people," Reed said.