House and Senate Democrats unveiled sweeping police reform legislation Monday while Joe Biden distanced himself from the “defund the police” movement pushed by far left activists.
Analysis and predictions as the nation grapples with policing following the death of George Floyd, pinned down by a white Minneapolis police officer with a knee to his throat:
Unveiled: The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 would, among other proposals, ban chokeholds and federal no-knock warrants; curb gifting military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement; mandate dashboard and body cameras; and establish a “National Police Misconduct Registry,” for future employers of officers fired or facing discipline.
“We’re here because black Americans want to stop being killed,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at a news conference with all the top Democratic congressional leaders.
No one at the presser wanted to talk about defunding the police.
Prognosis : The bill will pass the Democratic-run House and become important Democratic policy and campaign messaging. The measure as written will stall in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Prediction: The Trump White House may be open to a chokehold ban via some other legislative vehicle.
Chicago already bans chokeholds as a routine “takedown” technique under Mayor Lori Lightfoot: The Chicago Police Department classifies chokeholds as a “deadly force,” according to a policy directive effective last Feb. 29. Deadly force “is a last resort that is permissible only when necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life or to prevent great bodily harm to the member or another person,” the directive said.
My Chicago Sun-Times colleague Frank Main reminded me Monday that chokeholds have been an issue for Chicago police for years. In 2006, Main reported that a “1995 Chicago Police training bulletin alerted officers of “potentially dangerous restraint positions that must be avoided during custodial arrest and transportation,” including “restricting a subject’s chest from expanding properly.”
Defund the police movement politics makes it harder for Biden: The defund movement — organized around a slogan — is gaining some traction; that is, raising legitimate questions about whether taxpayer money poured into policing can be better used. Defund activists have to weigh this: The surest pathway to policies being discussed — improved policing, housing, education, income inequality, structural racism — comes if Biden is elected president in November.
In the real world of politics, the “defund the police” call has become a rallying cry for President Donald Trump and Republicans intent on portraying Democrats as soft on crime, unappreciative of good cops and captives of radical elements within their ranks. Well intended defunders play into Trump’s hand and make it more difficult for Biden.
Trump said in a Monday tweet, “The Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police. Sorry, I want LAW & ORDER!”
Biden against defunding: Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said, “Biden does not believe that police should be defunded. He hears and shares the deep grief and frustration of those calling out for change, and is driven to ensure that justice is done and that we put a stop to this terrible pain. Biden supports the urgent need for reform ....so that officers can focus on the job of policing.
Better “conversation” — underfunding, not defunding: Harris on SiriusXM’s “The Karen Hunter Show,” rolled out a better messaging frame. “This conversation is about underfunding … And the problem with what we’ve been doing is that it’s upside down where we have confused the issue by thinking that to create safe communities, you need to put more cops on the streets,” Harris said.
“No, to create safe communities means to understand the causes of whatever crime it is that we see, which are usually about a lack of access to basic needs, like health care, like education, like access to capital and economic opportunities and jobs … We know that it is time to reimagine what we are doing in the interest of safety and healthy communities.”
Lightfoot’s take: A spokesman said, “Lightfoot understands that police should not be government’s sole or even leading response to a complex web of social and economic forces—all caused by structural racism—that drive the economic hardship, poverty and disinvestment that she and everyone else paying attention to see in the plain light of day in Chicago’s Latinx and African American neighborhoods.”
Rep. Robin Kelly’s legislation: The Illinois Democrat is authoring the “State Attorneys General Empowerment Act” to expand the A.G. power “to investigate and resolve patterns or practices” investigations “of unconstitutional policing by local police departments in their respective states.”
“It is time for us to move this nation forward and provide an extra layer of oversight and responsibility on police departments by giving State Attorneys General the ability to hold police departments accountable, rebuild our communities, earn the trust of people of color, and provide the change that is needed in police relations with people of color,” she said.