Civil Rights Coalition Urges Quick Action On “Systemic” Police Brutality

June 2, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
The death of George Floyd has renewed scrutiny of immobilization techniques long used in policing around the world. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel, File)

WASHINGTON – A coalition of hundreds of national civil rights organizations urged Congress on Monday to address systemic police violence against African-American people in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis last week.

In a letter co-signed by more than 400 advocacy groups, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights implored top lawmakers to “take swift and decisive legislation action in response to ongoing fatal police killings and other violence against African-American people across our country.”

Over the last few days, thousands of people across the U.S. have poured into the streets to voice their rage against Floyd’s death, which shocked viewers around the world after being filmed by a teenage bystander.

The demonstrations have sparked violent clashes between police and protesters, leaving hundreds injured, destroying businesses, and prompting officials to impose curfews in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.. 

“The current protests across our country are not new,” the letter says. “They are in response to a long cycle of lawlessness against African-American people, from our founding to 1968, the year the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered.”

The group called on lawmakers to reform law enforcement departments through federal action, citing the recent police killings of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, Dreasjon Reed in Indiana, and Tony McDade in Florida.

“This spate of cases highlights entrenched, systemic dysfunction that has long plagued police departments and our criminal legal system,” the letter said. “Congress must rectify these structural wrongs through legislation before another African-American life is needlessly lost.”

The letter asks Congress to ban the use of chokeholds and other techniques that restrict the flow of blood to the brain, like the knee-to-neck maneuver used against Floyd by now-fired officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with third-degree murder.

It also calls for the creation of a national public database that compiles the names of officers whose licenses have been revoked for police misconduct, and for an end to “qualified immunity” laws that prevent police from being prosecuted for breaking the law.

Many lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called for police reform in response to Floyd’s death, but there have been few signs of concrete action so far.

Last week, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he would hold hearings this month to address racial violence against black and brown Americans. 

“America’s history of racism and racially motivated violence is a plague that continues to endure,” Nadler said on Twitter. “There must and there will be justice,” he said, though he did not provide further details.

Many lawmakers have expressed support for a resolution introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., that condemns “ all acts of police brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive and militarized force throughout the country.”

“For too long, black and brown bodies have been profiled, surveilled, policed, lynched, choked, brutalized and murdered at the hands of police officers,” Pressley said in a statement last week. “We cannot allow these fatal injustices to go unchecked any longer.” 

Among other demands, Pressley’s resolution calls for the Department of Justice to take the lead on individual investigations of police misconduct. The bill had more than 90 co-sponsors as of Monday, however, it is legally non-binding and will not result in any changes to current laws.

The letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights appeared to acknowledge Pressley’s measure, but it called for more concrete action on the issue. 

“While we appreciate hearings and resolutions, we need comprehensive measures enacted, the letter said. “We need Congress to advance meaningful legislation to protect African-American communities from the systemic perils of over policing, police brutality, misconduct, and harassment, and end the impunity with which officers operate in taking the lives of  African-American people.”

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