Posted on July 20, 2020
In the weeks following the killing of George Floyd, communities across Washington and throughout the country have stood up and powerfully spoken out — protesting, demanding accountability and fighting for justice. Thousands upon thousands have marched day after day not only to honor the lives of Rayshard Brooks, Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, Tony McDade, Charleena Lyles and so many others, but also to fight against police brutality, racism, anti-Blackness and white supremacy.
From the health-care workers making their voices heard outside Seattle City Hall to those who had tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash bangs unacceptably unleashed on them at Cal Anderson Park and outside the East Police Precinct, Seattleites have not just forced a necessary conversation but prompted necessary action.
Early on, I joined many fellow Washingtonians in calling for the end to the use of curfews, National Guard troops and militarized law enforcement. Rather than this unnecessary show of force, I have insisted that we respond differently, focusing instead on concrete policies that take on institutionalized racism and anti-Blackness.
Last week, I led 10 elected officials of color who represent Seattle at the federal, state, county and city levels in urging Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best to immediately enact transformative changes. That includes ending law enforcement’s violent response to ongoing demonstrations, completely overhauling policing to create an entirely different model of public safety that protects all in our community, and implementing serious accountability and transparency measures into police contracts.
But while transforming policing in Seattle is critical, it is not only our community or our police department that requires urgent reform. We need to re-imagine and rebuild law enforcement across the country in order to finally put an end to police brutality, militarization and anti-Blackness. We need accountability, we need oversight, we need transparency — and we need to ensure real justice.
As a member of the House Judiciary Committee — and with the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights coalitions like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — I was proud to help introduce the Justice in Policing Act last week. This legislation puts forth the most aggressive intervention into policing by Congress in recent memory, and reflects long overdue changes to the way law enforcement is done across the United States. Many of the reforms we have proposed are widely supported across the ideological spectrum.
The Justice in Policing Act not only bans chokeholds like the one used to kill George Floyd and Manuel Ellis, but establishes them as a civil rights violation. It also classifies lynching as a federal hate crime; we know that lynching is tragically not just a relic of our dark past.
The legislation establishes an innovative federal police misconduct registry that is public and tracks complaints at the local, state and federal level. This increases accountability and transparency while preventing officers accused of misconduct from skipping around to different agencies without any accountability. Speaking of accountability, the bill finally ends qualified immunity, which ensures we are able to hold accountable members of law enforcement who perpetrate violence, murders and injustices. Additionally, the bill lowers the legal standard for prosecuting law enforcement officers for deprivation of civil rights and civil liberties.
Importantly, the legislation requires the reporting of all incidents of use of force against a civilian to the Department of Justice (DOJ). It also collects data on law enforcement practices such as stops and searches, and tracks the demographic data as a means of halting racial profiling. It does this while also giving the DOJ the power to subpoena law enforcement departments for pattern and practice investigations, which allows them to hold accountable agencies who violate the constitution or other federal laws.
Finally, the new legislation establishes a national task force on law enforcement oversight and works to end the militarization of law enforcement by restricting the program that allows military equipment to transfer to local departments.
These changes represent only a first step in what is an urgently needed path to justice for Black communities, to finally valuing Black lives in America. Even as we work to swiftly pass the Justice in Policing Act through the House of Representatives, we need to heed the righteous voices of the powerful movement on the ground so local communities, led by Black voices, can move forward on transformational changes. Seattle can be a leader on this as it has been on so many other fronts. Because it is not enough to say Black Lives Matter, we must fight for Black lives and finally secure real, meaningful, transformative justice.
Pramila Jayapal is a Seattle Democrat representing the state’s 7th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. She is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a member of the Judiciary, Education and Labor, and Budget Committees.