The House passed a bill on Wednesday aimed at helping prevent police misconduct, naming the legislation after a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police last May in a violent arrest that triggered nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed 220-212 in the Democratic-controlled House. The legislation bans police from using chokeholds and no-knock warrants, requires data collection on police encounters and ends qualified immunity ― a legal doctrine often used to shield police from accountability.
The bill also authorizes new grant funding for community-based organizations to implement evidence-based initiatives like violence interruption and hospital-based violence intervention ― strategies to keep neighborhoods safe that mostly don’t involve police.
Ten months ago, then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, killed Floyd after kneeling on his neck for several minutes while he was handcuffed and face down on the street. Footage of the incident that went viral on social media showed Floyd begging officers for air, saying he couldn’t breathe. After pressure had already built up from repeated deaths of Black people at the hands of police, Floyd’s death broke the dam and resulted in protests across the country ― with some people calling for police reform, some demanding police funds go to social services and others calling for police abolition.
“My city is not an outlier but rather an example of the inequalities our country has struggled with for centuries,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), whose district includes Minneapolis, said inside as she presided over House debate and called the vote ahead of the bill’s passage.
“Today we find ourselves at a crossroads,” she added. “Will we have the moral courage to pursue justice and secure meaningful change, or will we succumb to this moment?”
House Democrats first introduced and passed the bill, mostly along party lines, last year in the wake of Floyd’s death, but the legislation failed in the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats hope the bill will pass both chambers this time, now that the Senate has a 50-50 partisan split, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to serve as a tie-breaker for the Democrats.
“We will begin those discussions with the Senate immediately after the bill is passed,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who is helping lead police reform efforts in the House, told reporters ahead of the Wednesday vote. “Over the last several weeks, discussions, especially with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), have been underway.”
But despite the bill’s passage in the House, not all advocacy groups are on board with what they see as the legislation’s limited scope.
“While we understand the urgency to pass police reform at the federal level, we can’t do it in a way that merely provides a veneer of justice while sacrificing real systemic change at the most opportune moment to achieve it,” Maritza Perez, spokesperson for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement.
Perez noted that the bill does not fully address issues such as police militarization, quick-knock raids and police practices disproportionately used against people of color in drug investigations
“Unfortunately, because House leadership chose to fast-track last year’s bill, rather than addressing advocates’ and community members’ concerns, that’s exactly the compromise they have made, and today’s vote solidified those failings,” she added. “The House-passed bill fails to provide for real reform and accountability and we oppose this bill in its current form.”