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Policing Reform and Social Justice

The peaceful protests across our country, which began after an officer sworn to uphold the law suffocated African American George Floyd, are a call for new and bolder action, a plea for something meaningful to be done to protect Black lives.  I am sponsoring reform legislation, including the important Justice in Policing Act.  

My efforts are not new. As a young attorney, I represented the family of a young African American murdered by a law enforcement officer. As a Texas State Senator, I authored the Texas Commission on Human Rights to prohibit discrimination. I also was the Senate sponsor of HB 1954 by my San Antonio colleague Walter Martinez, which mandated reporting requirements when prisoners die in custody and made the failure to meet those requirements a criminal office. Unfortunately, in subsequent years, by amendment, interpretation and failure to enforce, this law has not offered the full deterrent we had sought.  

In Congress, I have voted repeatedly in support of related issues, though most were blocked by Republicans from becoming law. These include stopping the militarization of local police with military equipment. More recently, under the leadership of my colleague, Rep. Karen Bass, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, I joined as an original sponsor to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This comprehensive legislation would hold police more accountable in our courts by limiting qualified immunity, improve transparency in policing by collecting more accurate data of police misconduct, create new standards for police training and practices, empower the Department of Justice to more fully investigate misconduct, and limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to law enforcement.  The bill would also ban chokeholds like that which that killed George Floyd, and no-knock warrants for drug investigations, which led to the death of Breonna Taylor.  Republicans have opposed this legislation and have sought unsuccessfully to weaken it with numerous amendments. For it to become law, we must continue demands on the Republican-controlled Senate to approve it rather than adopt token legislation appointing study committees and creating the appearance of reform without genuine, far-reaching change.

As we advocate for police reform, we must also address broader issues of racism. I am sponsoring Rep. Frederica Wilson’s Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act, which will create an advisory body to recommend policies to address the societal forces disproportionately affecting black males.  Additionally, I am sponsoring Rep. Barbara Lee’s resolution calling for establishment of a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Commission to study the legacy of slavery and racism.  And while it will undoubtedly need to await a new, humane administration to become law, I am also sponsoring legislation responding to Trump’s despotic and bigoted use of our military against peaceful protestors by amending the 1807 Insurrection Act to require explicit congressional approval for such use.

Ultimately, the significant changes we so much need in the law require a big change in lawmakers.