WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday banning controversial police tactics and easing the way for lawsuits against officers violating suspects’ constitutional rights, although the measure’s Senate prospects were uncertain.
Democrats pushed the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” through the House by a vote of 220-212, with the support of only one Republican, just days before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin goes on trial on a state murder charge in the death of Floyd last year.
However, later on Wednesday evening, Representative Lance Gooden, the sole Republican who voted for the legislation, wrote in a post on Twitter that his vote had been a mistake and in fact he opposes the bill.
Floyd, 46, an African-American man, died when he was detained with Chauvin kneeling on his neck for nearly eight minutes. His killing sparked weeks of nationwide and global protests, many of which were led by Black Lives Matter activists.
“How many more people have to die, how many more people have to be brutalized on videotape” before police reforms become law, asked Democratic Representative Karen Bass, who wrote the legislation with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
The bill includes measures such as restricting certain funds to local governments that allow law enforcement officers to use choke holds, banning “no-knock warrants” that allow police officers to enter premises without announcing themselves and requiring law enforcement agencies to provide data on instances when police officers used deadly force.
Bass said the bill would hold police “accountable” when constitutional rights are violated but would also support local law enforcement by fostering improvements in community policing, especially for minority neighborhoods.
One of its most controversial provisions would change “qualified immunity” for police, further opening the door for lawsuits over the use of excessive force.
Reuters in May 2020 published an investigation revealing how qualified immunity, with the Supreme Court’s continual refinements, had made it easier for police officers to kill or injure civilians with impunity.
Conservative Republicans have attacked the Democratic bill, saying it would put law enforcement lives in danger and make communities less safe.
The police reform effort sputtered in Congress last summer after the House passed the so-called George Floyd bill and Democrats blocked a Senate Republican bill.
While the Republican bill also addressed issues such as police choke holds, no-knock warrants and use of police body cameras, Democrats complained it relied on incentives rather than mandating changes.
Senator Tim Scott, the author of the Republican bill, told Reuters in a statement he welcomed conversations with Democrats over qualified immunity. – Reuters