Congressman Kweisi Mfume (Official Photo)

By Kweisi Mfume

Saturday, March 13th, marked one year since the death of Breonna Taylor.

It will mark 365 days since Louisville police officers burst into her apartment and shot 32 times, six of which hit Ms. Taylor, killing her as she slept. 

This month also marks the beginning of the trial for Derek Chauvin, the ex-police officer charged with killing George Floyd last summer in Minneapolis.

This March also marks 30 years since Rodney King was savagely beaten by police in Los Angeles. The horrific beating resulted in skull fractures, broken bones, and permanent brain damage.

For decades, Black and brown communities have witnessed and experienced trauma at the hands of police. For too long, too many communities have called for police accountability and for officers to protect and serve in the same way officers serve other communities. For too long, these calls have been silenced, ignored, and swept under the rug. 

But now, for the first time in history, our nation appears to be peering over the precipice of change. 

On March 3rd, I, along with my colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives, voted to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. The bill includes several provisions to change the culture of law enforcement, hold police accountable for misconduct, and build trust between law enforcement and our communities. This landmark federal legislation takes a comprehensive approach to root out racial profiling, end police brutality and end the cruel reality of discriminatory policing in America.

I am grateful to the many men and women that serve and protect our communities with dignity, day-in and day-out. While most officers take their oath very seriously, we must hold those who violate public trust accountable, just as we would any other citizen. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act will do just that.

On the front-end, the bill works to end racial and religious profiling by requiring all law enforcement officers to participate in training to recognize bias and discriminatory practices.

The bill also bans harmful practices like no-knock warrants and chokeholds (which took the lives of Ms. Taylor and Mr. Floyd, respectively) at the federal level and will prevent states and local law enforcement agencies from receiving federal grants unless they also ban the practices. 

In cases of police misconduct, the legislation makes it easier for the federal government to prosecute officers by amending the law that currently limits the authority of prosecutors to hold police officers accountable for their misconduct. The bill will also eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement personnel, making it possible for individuals to sue for civil damages when their constitutional and civil rights have been violated.

Another major hurdle to meaningful police accountability has been the lack of transparency and reliable information on policing. This legislation will change that by establishing the first-ever national database of civilian police encounters, requiring data collection and analysis of everything from use of force incidents to traffic stop information.

In addition, the legislation will require the collection of data on police misconduct to track and prevent dangerous officers from moving from one department to another to avoid accountability.

Even beyond combatting excessive policing, the legislative package also reinvests in our communities by creating grants to fund community-based organizations and strategies that have proven to be successful at improving public safety and reducing violence.

While there are many more measures included in this bill (like those requiring the use of body and dashboard cameras and others that get weapons of war off our streets), we know that no single policy can erase the decades of systemic racism and excessive policing in our country. Police violence in our country is pervasive, but passing this historic legislation is the first step to addressing the issue of police brutality at the federal level.

As an original cosponsor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, I am optimistic that my colleagues in the U.S Senate will also pass this legislation in the very near term and hopeful that President Biden signs this measure into law.

Whether it’s Rodney King, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, or the hundreds of other victims of police violence who never made headlines, we must rectify the systemic racism that has taken the lives of far too many people – largely people of color. The only way to meet this moment is with transformational reform that will get our country on a path forward. The time to do it is now.

Kweisi Mfume represents the seventh Congressional district of Maryland

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