5 Years After Ferguson, Democrats Announce Bill To Curb Deadly Police Shootings

The legislation, which would raise the standard for police use of force, was announced on the anniversary of Michael Brown's death.

On Friday ― five years to the day after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teen in Ferguson, Missouri ― Democratic lawmakers announced legislation aimed at reducing police killings by raising the standard for law enforcement’s use of deadly force.

The bill would change the federal standard for “use of force” by federal officers ― including those with the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and more. It would require that cops only use lethal force when necessary to prevent “imminent and serious” harm or death, and after “exhausting reasonable alternatives.” Notably, it would require officers to use de-escalation techniques to try to stabilize the situation.

The legislation, called the PEACE Act, is also meant to affect officers at the state and local levels by requiring states to enact similar legislation to be eligible for continued funding from a certain federal grant program. Nationwide funding under that program, the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, has totaled about $400 million per year in recent years, per the office of Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who authored the bill.

Khanna was with Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) in Ferguson Friday to announce the bill. He plans to formally introduce the bill in Congress in September when lawmakers return from recess.

“It is past time to end a legal standard for use of force that permits Americans to be killed as a first resort ― rather than only when absolutely necessary ― and with little accountability,” Khanna said in a news release. He pointed to research showing how Black Americans are disproportionately affected by police violence, accounting for 25% of those who were killed by police in 2017 though they make up only 13% of the U.S. population.

“We have to do more than change the rhetoric,” Khanna said. “We have to change the laws.”

After Brown’s death, weeks of protests ensued, and the episode became a flashpoint in wider discussions about systemic racism, police brutality and abuse of state power. Five years later, of course, the nation is still reckoning with these problems.

Research shows police interactions with Black people are disproportionately likely to end in excessive force or death. Since Brown’s death, many more unarmed Black people have been killed by police, including Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Stephon Clark, to name a few. 

The legislation, which so far does not have any Republicans backing it, was co-sponsored by two dozen Democrats, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). It’s also backed by the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union. 

The bill was modeled on similar legislation recently passed in California that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is expected to sign into law.