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House passes police reform bill, would ban chokeholds

Updated June 26, 2020 - 9:39 am

WASHINGTON — House Democrats used the one-month anniversary of George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis policeman to pass a sweeping law enforcement reform bill Thursday that would ban tactics such as chokeholds and make it easier to prosecute officers for misconduct.

The bill passed mostly along party lines, 236-181, with the Nevada delegation following party leaders.

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said on the floor of the House that “during this moment of national anguish, we must insist on bold change.”

Passage of the bill comes one day after Senate Democrats blocked a Republican version of the legislation, saying it didn’t go far enough to provide changes sought by thousands of Americans protesting in cities across the nation, including Las Vegas, over police brutality.

And negotiations between party leaders appeared at a stalemate, casting doubt about whether a final bill will be passed next week.

Horrific day

Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., used the occasion of Floyd’s death to build support for the Democratic bill she said would provide greater transparency and accountability from the police.

“Exactly one month ago, George Floyd spoke his final words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ and changed the course of history,” Pelosi said.

“Since that horrific day, Americans from every walk of life and corner of the country have been marching, protesting and demanding that this moment of national agony become one of national action,” she said with Democrats on the Capitol steps prior to the vote.

The House named its bill the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as a tribute.

Different bills

Both parties have tried to address the problem of racial inequality in policing with different bills.

Republicans put forward a bill by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only African American member of the GOP in the Senate, that would require training and form a commission to study current practices.

That bill was blocked by Democrats in the Senate, who rallied behind a bill by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., the only Democratic Black members in the Senate, which outlined stronger measures to stop police misconduct and use of chokeholds and no-knock raids to serve drug warrants.

Senate Democrats want Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to allow the Senate Judiciary Committee to craft compromise legislation that can pass in the Senate and House.

Democrats said they were stymied by Republicans and President Donald Trump in negotiations to find a compromise legislation that can pass in either chamber.

Although states and local governments have taken action since Floyd’s death, Congress could go months before a compromise is reached and legislation passed to address police actions caught on videotape and opposed by a majority of voters, according to recent polls.

Can’t walk away

“I think the country demands it,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said of the stalemate and the need for compromise. “I don’t think we can walk away from it.”

During debate on the House bill by the Judiciary Committee, George Floyd’s brother urged Congress to act to ensure that his brother’s death was not in vain.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Republicans followed that ideal in their bills in the House and Senate to build on civil rights and opportunities for minorities.

“When I looked George Floyd’s brother in the eye and told him that George will not have died in vain, I meant it,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also accused Democrats of putting “politics over people.”

“That’s insulting,” shot back Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the Democratic caucus chairman who said it was people in his community who were losing their lives because of racism and police brutality.

The House bill is supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The NAACP and civil rights groups backed Republicans in their opposition to the GOP bill earlier this week.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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