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Several lawmakers in Congress have expressed their support for police reform after more than a week of protests around the country prompted by George Floyd’s murder. Legislation is being pushed forward and at least one congressional hearing on the issue has been announced.
The House Judiciary Committee announced on June 3 that it would hold a hearing on police brutality and racial profiling on June 10. The hearing, which will be streamed live, will examine police brutality, racial profiling and the deteriorating relationship between police departments and the communities they are meant to serve.
“There are now protests taking place in every state as people take a stand against police brutality and racism,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said in a statement. “People are rightfully upset, they are frustrated, and they want to be heard. They want real change, not meaningless words. I want Americans to know that I hear them, and I see them.”
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee Chair, said that Congress needs to act and examine legislation to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions.
“We must address the structural conflicts of interest. We must create a database so that abusive law enforcement officers lose the privilege of being an officer anywhere, not just in a given precinct,” Bass said. “For years, we have introduced legislation addressing police brutality. This hearing is our next step in implementing change to our system.”
Legislation From Both Sides of the Aisle
Representative Justin Amash (I-MI) announced that he planned to introduce legislation that would end qualified immunity. The Ending Qualified Immunity Act would allow civil lawsuits against police officers. Qualified immunity, which has been around since 1967, is a legal doctrine that shields law enforcement agencies and officers for actions performed within their official capacity unless those actions violated “clearly established” the law.
“The brutal killing of George Floyd is merely the latest in a long line of incidents of egregious police conduct,” Amash wrote in a letter to colleagues, according to Reuters. “This pattern continues because police are legally, politically and culturally insulated...That must change so that these incidents stop happening.”
Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) will co-lead the bill with Amash, he revealed on June 3. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MI) is expected to support the bill.
Amash was not the only member of the House to promise a police reform bill. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has twice promised she would introduce legislation that will tackle policing across the country.
Jackson Lee marched with protesters in Houston all weekend and, on Tuesday, announced that she would introduce “revolutionary legislation” that will create a “new culture for police and for policing,” KHOU reported.
The new legislation, which Jackson Lee said she would introduce on June 4, would create guidelines regarding recruitment, de-escalation and accreditation. The bill would be named in honor of George Floyd.
Jackson Lee previously told reporters that she was discussing with fellow members of Congress about federal policies that could help improve the relationship police have with the communities they serve. On June 1, she said that she would introduce the Law Enforcement and Integrity Act, aimed to overhaul the systems of accountability for police departments, KPRC reported.
“I think once you understand how to train (and) deescalate, you will enrich community relationships,” she said. It is unclear if the Law Enforcement and Integrity Act and the bill named after George Floyd are the same piece of legislation.
Jackson Lee’s office did not respond to multiple requests for more information about the bill named after George Floyd. No information about the bill is available on the congresswoman’s website.
This is the first of two pieces looking at what lawmakers at the federal and state level are doing to hold police accountable, tackle police brutality and redirect law enforcement funds back into the communities they are meant to serve.
At the end of each story about the Black Lives Matter protests occurring around the country, we will share the following information on how best to protect yourself:
Protecting Yourself From Tear Gas
Before being exposed: Do not wear contact lenses or makeup. This could trap the tear gas on your skin and eyes. Try to wear protective goggles if possible. Remember to wear a mask, which you should already be wearing to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Wear long sleeves and long pants to protect as much of your skin as possible.
If exposed: Get yourself out of the area immediately. The CDC recommends seeking higher ground as most Riot Control Agents (RCAs) are heavier than air.
Clothing: The RCAs will have contaminated your clothing, be sure to remove the clothes as soon as possible and discard. Clothing that needs to be removed over the head should be cut instead. The CDC recommends wearing rubber gloves and putting the contaminated clothes in a bag and then seal that bag in another bag.
Exposed Skin: The International News Safety Institute recommends washing with soap and water. First, shower in cold water and then in warm water. Do not bathe. Wash your face as soon as you can, but do not rub the skin as you don’t want to activate the powder in tear gas. Do not rinse your eyes and face with milk, instead use water.
Protecting Yourself: Technology Edition
Smartphone: Smartphones can easily give out information that police can later use against protesters. Turn off your location data and remove facial and fingerprint recognition. If you need to communicate with friends or family, be sure to download and use the Signal app, which encrypts messages. WIRED recommends Android users head to Settings, then Security and make sure the Encrypt Disk option is selected.
Social Media: Do not post photos or videos with geotags and consider blurring the faces of protesters when sharing information on social media.
Police Conduct App: The ACLU has created the Mobile Justice app to record police conduct. You can learn more about the app here.
Identifying Clothing or Tattoos: It is highly recommended you wear clothing that is not easily identifiable. Be sure to cover any tattoos that can be used by law enforcement to identify you.
In Case You’re Arrested: Write the number down of a lawyer, organization or friend/family member that you can call if you’re arrested on your skin. Be sure to have a form of ID in your pocket.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.