As protests erupted across the country after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a dozen progressive Democratic House members filed a resolution May 29 condemning police brutality not only in the case of Floyd but also in the case of Breonna Taylor, the black 26-year-old Louisville EMT who was gunned down in her own home by cops on a misbegotten no-knock drug raid in March.
It’s up to the House leadership to see it move and to show that Congress is finally grappling with an epidemic of racially-biased, drug war-fueled police thuggery.
Those House members leading the resolution are Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). Additional cosponsors include Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).
“For too long, Black and brown bodies have been profiled, surveilled, policed, lynched, choked, brutalized and murdered at the hands of police officers,” Congresswoman Pressley said in a statement announcing the resolution. “We cannot allow these fatal injustices to go unchecked any longer. There can be no justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of the human beings who have been killed by law enforcement, for in a just world, they would still be alive. There must, however, be accountability.”
“From slavery to lynching to Jim Crow, Black people in this country have been brutalized and dehumanized for centuries,” saidCongresswoman Omar. “The war on drugs, mass criminalization, and increasingly militarized police forces have led to the targeting, torture and murder of countless Americans, disproportionately black and brown. The murder of George Floyd in my district is not a one-off event. We cannot fully right these wrongs until we admit we have a problem. As the People’s House, the House of Representatives must acknowledge these historical injustices and call for a comprehensive solution. There are many steps on the path to justice, but we must begin to take them.”
The resolution has broad support from a wide range of racial and social justice organizations. The unjustifiable deaths of African Americans Floyd and Taylor at the hands of white police are, though, just the tip of an iceberg of official oppression and heavy-handed, militarized policing whose brunt is felt most keenly in the country’s black and brown communities, but whose breadth encompasses almost all of us. And while protesters shout the names of Floyd and Taylor, the demand for unbiased, accountable policing goes far beyond these latest manifestations of cop culture run amok.
The prosecution of the war on drugs, with its racially biased arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of people of color and its devastating impact on minority communities, is a major driver of fear and loathing for and distrust of police, the resolution cosponsors argued.
“[T]he system of policing in America, and its systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of color, particularly Black people, stems from the long legacy of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, and the War on Drugs in the United States and has been perpetuated by violent and harmful law enforcement practices,” they wrote. “[P]olice brutality and the use of excessive and militarized force are among the most serious ongoing human rights and civil liberties violations in the United States and have led to community destabilization, a decrease in public safety, and the exacerbation of structural inequities.”
Contemporary police practice, with its emphasis on low-level enforcement (such as arresting more than a million people a year for simple drug possession), along with the militarization of police “has led to mass criminalization, heightened violence, and mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people,” they noted.
The toll from law enforcement malpractice is staggering, the representatives argued: “[P]olice brutality and the use of excessive force have robbed countless communities of precious lives, have inflicted intergenerational harm and trauma to families, and are intensifying our Nation’s mental health crisis.” And, they charged, the cops are literally getting away with murder: “[P]olice in the United States, through acts of brutality and the use of excessive force, kill far more people than police in other comparable nations and have been historically shielded from accountability.”
The resolution “condemns all acts of brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers and calls for the end of militarized policing.” It also “supports strengthening efforts to eliminate instances of excessive use of force, and conduct stringent oversight and independent investigations into instances of police brutality, racial profiling, and excessive use of force, and hold individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable.”
To that end, the resolution calls on the Justice Department to return to its once proactive role in investigating incidents of police brutality, violence, and racial profiling and police departments that have a pattern of civil rights violations—a feature of the Obama administration Justice Department that was overturned under Trump.
That would include having the DOJ actively challenging courts “to reconsider decisions that permit unreasonable and excessive police practices,” effectively enforce consent decrees with police departments that have been caught misbehaving, and establish civilian review boards that are not mere paper tigers.
“Over the last few months, we have witnessed heightened violent acts of white supremacy, police brutality and targeted harassment because we were simply living while Black,” said Congresswoman Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “And over and over again, offenders go unpunished, allowing this vicious cycle to continue with impunity. We cannot move forward as a nation until what has broken is fixed.”
“George Floyd’s tragic murder shows how much work we have to fix the relationships between law enforcement and black and brown people,” said Congresswoman Lee. “We have seen far too many young men and women of color murdered by police, for as little as driving their car, riding public transportation, having a cell phone, or just being in their own homes. Police officers are supposed to defuse violence—not inflict it on black and brown communities. While the majority of police officers approach their job in a professional manner, we cannot allow black and brown bodies to be targeted, attacked, and killed with impunity. It’s going to take a lot of work and a serious reckoning with our society’s ingrained racial biases to stop this violence. We need to restore the proper role of police in our community—as public servants who are here to protect everyone, not just those they deem worthy of protection. Being Black in America should not be a death sentence.”
If the House adopts this resolution, it puts itself squarely on the side of the growing clamor to rein in out-of-control police. The resolution now has a number, House Resolution 988, and in the days since it was introduced, the number of cosponsors has jumped to 50, and again to 160. That’s a start. Now, it’s up to the House leadership to see that it moves—and to show that Congress is finally beginning to grapple with an epidemic of racially-biased, drug war-fueled police thuggery.
Independent Media Institute
Phillip Smith is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. He is the longtime author of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the non-profit StopTheDrugWar.org, and has been the editor of AlterNet’s Drug Reporter since 2015. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.
This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.