WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that a policing overhaul bill the chamber is voting on in the evening will address systemic racism and police brutality and save lives.
“Exactly one month ago, George Floyd spoke his final words — ‘I can’t breathe’ — and changed the course of history,” Pelosi said on the steps outside the Capitol, flanked by House Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, chaired by Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.
Americans have since been demanding that that “moment of national agony become one of national action,” Pelosi said.
“The George Floyd Justice and Policing Act will fundamentally transform the culture of policing to address systemic racism, curb police brutality and bring accountability to our police departments,” she said. “It will save lives.”
Speaking at the event, Bass said that it was not until the advent of cell phone cameras that the stories of police abuse “were finally exposed to the world,” but she said deaths were previously “disregarded, not believed, not acknowledged.”
“We are supposed to be the beacon of hope for human rights in other countries, and the Justice and Policing Act is a bill for human rights in our country,” Bass said.
The House is expected to vote on the measure Thursday night, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is expected to preside over the preceding debate in the afternoon as speaker pro tempore. Omar represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, which covers the city of Minneapolis, where George Floyd died at the end of May while in police custody.
Democrats introduced the legislation earlier this month amid the national outcry over Floyd’s death. The legislation would ban chokeholds, including the kind used on Floyd by a then-Minneapolis police officer, as well as no-knock warrants in drug cases, as was used in the incident leading to the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.
The legislation would require local police departments to send data on the use of force to the federal government and create a grant program that would allow state attorneys general to create an independent process to investigate misconduct or excessive use of force. The bill would also make it easier for people to recover damages when police departments violate their civil rights and, for the first time, would make lynching a federal hate crime.
The House vote comes a day after Democrats blocked a Republican policing reform proposal in the Senate from advancing to debate, calling the legislation flawed and a nonstarter. A motion to open debate on the measure, which needed 60 votes, failed 55-45.
Pelosi said Thursday that once the House passes the bill, the Senate will have a choice “to honor George Floyd’s life or do nothing.”
At the event Thursday morning, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., called the Senate bill “sham, fake reform,” which he said “does nothing real.”
“This is not the time for half measures. It’s not the time for further study. It’s not the time for sham, fake reform,” he said. “We must insist, the country insists, on real change, that Black lives matter, and that the Senate, the Republicans in the Senate, cannot be allowed and will not be allowed to thwart the will of the country.”