Law & the Courts

A Poisonous Police-Reform Bill

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, speaks during a press event ahead of vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 on Capitol Hill, June 25, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is a misnomer. If passed into law, it wouldn’t advance justice or any other reasonable goal.


Consider, for starters, its declaration that any indication that law-enforcement “interviews, traffic stops, pedestrian stops, frisks and other types of body searches” have had a disparate impact on individuals of different races constitutes “prima facie evidence” of racial profiling.


This is absurd. There are bound to be disparities in such police interactions because there are disparities in crime rates. Obviously, law enforcement shouldn’t be pressured to bend to ideological demands while ignoring on-the-ground realities. Worse, the bill makes officers liable for these disparities — over which they have no control — and forces them to prove they aren’t guilty of wrong-doing if taken to court, rather than the other way around.


Disparities based on the characteristics of “ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation” too are considered prima facie evidence of profiling. The same problems that apply to race apply to each of these, but let’s consider gender in particular. Ninety-two percent of the U.S. prison population is male. That’s because men commit the vast majority of crimes in this country. To avoid potential legal action, law-enforcement officers and agencies will need to either manufacture reasons to stop, frisk, and perform more searches on more women, or stop men far less often. Both approaches would be insane and represent a step backwards from equal treatment under the law.


The bill would also funnel federal dollars to progressive organizations such as the NAACP, ACLU, and National Urban League among others. And what for? To study “management and operations standards for law enforcement agencies, including standards relating to administrative due process, residency requirements, compensation and benefits, use of force, racial profiling, early warning and intervention systems, youth justice, school safety” and much more. Then, they’re to use these studies — which we can safely assume won’t be disinterested — to create pilot programs for law enforcement that can be used to fulfill their accreditation standards.


Police departments seeking federal grants, meanwhile, must pledge to spend at least 5 percent of the funds they receive on studying and implementing programs like those that the NAACP, ACLU, et al. are charged with coming up with.


While Democrats have pressed forward with this unpassable, impractical, and partisan legislation, clearly there would have been an opportunity for a more consensus approach. This can be seen in the passage of the FIRST STEP Act and Senator Tim Scott’s efforts to get his JUSTICE Act across the finish line last summer. Sentencing reform, marijuana decriminalization, civil-asset forfeiture, and body cameras are just a few issues where it would be possible to get bipartisan majorities.


Instead, Democrats are pushing a bill that would render our law enforcement less effective, our communities less safe, and our system less just. It is headed for the dustbin in the Senate, and deservedly so.


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