The Senate JUSTICE Act Fails to Live Up to the Moment

Joan Neal
June 22, 2020

On May 25, 2020 when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis policeman, the nation and indeed the world, saw with their own eyes the police brutality suffered by the Black community on a regular basis. For 23 days now, people have been protesting in the streets of cities and towns against that same cruel and inhumane treatment from the people who are sworn to ‘serve and protect’ all communities. The disconnect is not only visible, it is deadly.

These protesters are shouting to high heaven that Black Lives Matter. They are demanding justice and equal protection from the law as well as under the law. They are declaring that the kind of police brutality that is standard operating procedure in communities of color all over the nation must stop — NOW! The public outcry against the kind of over-policing and state sponsored violence against Black people in the U.S. shows no signs of diminishing until justice is done.

Now it is time for Congress to act. Now is the time for lawmakers to pass meaningful police reform legislation that protects Black communities from the systemic threats of over-policing, police brutality, misconduct and harassment. The House of Representatives has taken that responsibility seriously and are proceeding toward passage of a sweeping reform package in The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. It is not a perfect bill but it includes meaningful changes to the way police departments operate at the State and local levels. Read NETWORK’s letter to Congress in support of H.R. 7120.

On the other hand, the bill just introduced in the Senate by Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), falls woefully short of what is needed to respond appropriately and decisively at this moment in our country. The JUSTICE Act proposes data bases and studies as a response to the continuing loss of life in the Black community at the hands of police and law enforcement. It offers suggestions that police refrain from using deadly force, choke-holds and other such death-dealing physical restraints instead of prohibiting them. It provides $8 billion dollars in new funding as an incentive for police departments when such funding is already available through other mechanisms. It fails to revoke qualified immunity and prohibit the use of no-knock warrants. It provides no mechanisms to hold police accountable when they break the law nor does it eliminate transfers of military equipment from the Federal government to State and local police departments. The JUSTICE Act is fundamentally flawed and the Senate should go back to the drawing board.

NETWORK joined The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a letter urging Senators to vote NO on a motion to proceed with the JUSTICE Act. Read the letter in full here. 

The current moment offers this country an historic opportunity to make transformational change in the way we envision and ensure public safety for everyone. We need a fundamental change in policing culture, one that recognizes the dignity of every human person and holds law enforcement accountable for their actions. We need an end to the adversarial rather than service relationship with Black people. And we need increased investments in under-resourced communities that provide the same opportunities to thrive that other communities already enjoy. Now is the time. We urge Congress to swiftly rectify the legacy of white supremacy and racism in public safety. The people have issued a clarion call to action and Congress must respond.