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WASHINGTON, D.C., June 23, 2020 — In a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), on Tuesday demanded bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point on policing reform legislation. Leader McConnell said last week that he would not negotiate with Democrats before bringing Senate Republicans’ JUSTICE Act to the floor, despite the weight and magnitude of this time.

As people across the country march to demand a comprehensive overhaul of our current system of policing and an end to the killing of Black Americans by police, Senators Schumer, Booker, and Harris emphasize that it is imperative that the Senate move forward with real and meaningful reform. 

Senators Harris, Schumer, and Booker write that the JUSTICE Act falls dangerously short in numerous key areas, being so threadbare and lacking in substance that it fails to provide a proper baseline for negotiations. The JUSTICE Act does not contain any mechanisms to hold law enforcement officers accountable in court for their misconduct—including as it relates to the current federal standard for criminal misconduct, which has allowed law enforcement officers to evade criminal liability for excessive use of force, and qualified immunity, which shields officers from liability even when they violate citizens Constitutional rights; does not implement public national misconduct registry necessary to ensure communities have information necessary to hold their own law enforcement officers accountable; fails to establish the collection of all use of force data, and data related to religious and racial profiling; does nothing to end harmful policing practices, like racial and religious profiling, no knock warrants in drug cases and the use of chokehold and carotid holds; and fails to create a national use of force standard. 

The Senators stress that the Senate is now uniquely positioned to lead when it comes to reforming and reimagining policing in this country, and must not start with a floor vote on the JUSTICE Act—a woefully inadequate response to systemic police misconduct and the killing of Black Americans by police. The Senate must instead begin by considering real and meaningful reforms, such as those found in the Justice in Policing Act.

A copy of the letter to Leader McConnell can be found here and below:

Dear Leader McConnell:

Across the country, people of all races are marching together to demand a comprehensive overhaul of our current system of policing and an end to the killing of Black Americans by police.  To begin to meet those demands, the Senate must move forward with meaningful reform.  But on June 16, you stated that you would not negotiate with Democrats before bringing Senate Republicans’ JUSTICE Act to the floor.  Specifically, you noted that Democrats can either “shoot . . . down” the Republican proposal or “take the risk to go to the bill and see what changes, if any, we can all agree to in order to get to 60.”We will not meet this moment by holding a floor vote on the  JUSTICE Act, nor can we simply amend this bill, which is so threadbare and lacking in substance that it does not even provide a proper baseline for negotiations.  This bill is not salvageable and we need bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point. 

First, the JUSTICE Act, which you are rushing to the floor for a vote, does not contain any mechanisms to hold law enforcement officers accountable in court for their misconduct. We repeat, in a moment calling for police accountability, the JUSTICE Act, your proposed answer to this crisis, does not contain any mechanisms to hold law enforcement officers accountable in court for their misconduct. It does not address the federal criminal mens rea standard in Section 242, which for too long has allowed law enforcement officers to evade criminal liability for excessive use of force.  It does nothing to address qualified immunity, which both Republicans and Democrats agree has unjustly served as an almost complete barrier to recovery for individuals who have had their constitutional rights violated by law enforcement officers.  There are no provisions to ensure that law enforcement agencies who engage in unconstitutional patterns and practices can be held accountable at the federal or state level; and there are no provisions to support independent investigations at the state level into deadly use of force by law enforcement officers.  It is absolutely imperative that any meaningful policing reform contains accountability provisions to ensure that no one, including law enforcement officers, is above the law – and the JUSTICE Act does nothing to meet that urgent need.

Second, in addition to lacking any accountability provisions, the JUSTICE Act does not provide the transparency into police misconduct necessary to ensure communities have access to the information necessary to hold their own law enforcement officers accountable. For too long, the disciplinary and misconduct records of officers who pose a knowable threat to public safety have been shielded from the public in a manner that has resulted in great harm to the communities they are entrusted to protect.  It is critical that a public national misconduct registry be implemented at the federal level to enable not just communities, but law enforcement agencies to prevent dangerous officers from escaping detection by moving from one jurisdiction to another.

Third, while the JUSTICE Act requires some data collection, it does not go far enough to ensure all of the necessary data is collected to enable Congress to conduct the necessary oversight and ensure communities are no longer roiled by the tragic killing of an unarmed individual at the hands of law enforcement.  That includes collecting all use of force data, and data related to religious and racial profiling.

Fourth, the JUSTICE Act does nothing to end harmful policing practices, like racial and religious profiling, no knock warrants in drug cases and the use of chokehold and carotid holds.  If we are to meaningfully reform and reimagine policing, legislation must take on the harmful practices that have resulted in countless senseless tragedies at the hands of police.

Finally, the JUSTICE Act does not create a national use of force standard.  If we are to fundamentally change the nature of policing in this country, we have to shift the paradigm of policing.  Law enforcement officers’ use of force should be evaluated not on whether it was reasonable, but on whether it was necessary.

The Senate is uniquely positioned to lead when it comes to reforming and reimagining policing in this country. If we are to do so – we cannot start with a floor vote on the JUSTICE Act. Instead we must begin by considering real and meaningful reforms, such as those found in the Justice in Policing Act, a bicameral bill with 231 House and 37 Senate co-sponsors that will be put to a vote on the House floor this week.

This is a serious challenge requiring serious solutions. Bringing the JUSTICE Act to the floor of the Senate is a woefully inadequate response, and we urge you to bring meaningful legislation to the floor for a vote.

Thank you for considering this request. Sincerely,