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The president of the Human Rights Campaign called a Republican-sponsored Senate bill aiming to reform policing “offensive” and the “wrong solution” for addressing the issues of racial bias, systemic racism, and the use of excessive force by officers.
Speaking on a conference call with other civil rights organizations, HRC President Alphonso David deemed the Senate version of a police reform bill unacceptable and predicted it would be ineffective at dealing with the underlying racial issues that have plagued policing for years and the tension that often exists between police and the communities they police, particularly Black people and other individuals of color.
Those issues have been thrust front and center in the national debate over reforming policing, which has grown out of the protests held in cities throughout the nation and the world decrying systemic racism and the officer-involved deaths of Black individuals in several cities, most notably the death of George Floyd, who was killed after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck.
“Right now, Black communities in this country face disproportionate levels of policing, which of course leads to more interactions with law enforcement, more arrests, and, often, less trust,” David said.
David noted that a key component of the problem of over-policing communities of color is rooted in the large sums of money budgeted for police, some of which could be better spent on other priorities, particularly programs designed to deal with social issues that police officers lack the training to deal with, such as addiction, mental health problems, joblessness — particularly for formerly incarcerated individuals — and poverty.
“We have to transform the system, not provide a system with more money and more power. Real, transformative change is vital to LGBTQ people all over this country,” David said. “Real, transformative change in policing is vital to Black people. Transformational changes to policing are vital to the future of our country.”
HRC, along with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the Center for American Progress and close to 450 other organizations, have signed onto a letter urging Congress to take effective action on police violence. To that end, they have also endorsed a set of principles required to completely overhaul the system of policing and the mindset of law enforcement.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans have introduced competing legislation on the issue. Both House and Senate Democrats seek more sweeping reforms, such as restricting the use of qualified immunity for police officers, restricting the use of military equipment by police departments, ending “no-knock” warrants, and prohibiting chokeholds. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, support more limited restrictions regarding the use of force, increased use of body cameras, and more oversight of police departments.
Senate Democrats have indicated they will vote against a motion to proceed to debate on the Republicans’ bill when it is brought to the floor on Wednesday, on the grounds that it is insufficient in tackling the problems surrounding policing, and failed to include any input from Democrats, according to The New York Times.
“I want to make sure we’re not mincing words,” David said. “The Senate’s proposal is a non-starter. The Senate’s proposal simply restates and funds the existing system, which is untenable. What [the Senate] should do is engage with the House leadership on a proposal that we have been working with them on for several weeks now, that does provide a runway for meaningful change moving forward.
“The Senate bill does nothing on qualified immunity. It does nothing on racial profiling. It refuses to ban chokeholds and ‘no-knock’ warrants. It fails to address militarization of police,” he added. “The bill the Senate is advancing is an offensive piece of legislation that does not address the problem.”
Other civil rights organizations have also panned the Republican Senate bill, and urged Democrats to vote against starting debate on it.
“Instead of taking meaningful action, the Senate chose to put forth a bill that falls woefully short of the comprehensive changes needed to address the current policing crisis,” Vanita Gupta, the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said on Tuesday’s conference call. “It is deeply problematic to meet this moment with a menial incremental approach that offers more funding to the police, and few policies to end state-sanctioned violence against Black and Brown people. That is why we and over 135 other organizations are calling on senators to reject this bill and the motion to proceed.”
“The lack of police accountability and enforceable policies put forth in this bill fails to answer the problems faced by many people of color across this country,” Hilary Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, said in a statement. “If we are going to solve the myriad of issues with policing in this country, we need a multi-faceted approach.”
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