House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, centre, and other members of Congress, kneel and observe a moment of silence at the Capitol's Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington, reading the names of George Floyd and others killed during police interactions. Picture: Manuel Balce Cenet/AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, centre, and other members of Congress, kneel and observe a moment of silence at the Capitol's Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington, reading the names of George Floyd and others killed during police interactions. Picture: Manuel Balce Cenet/AP

US lawmakers introduce police reform bill as thousands turn out for George Floyd memorial

By Shabtai Gold, Sophie Wingate and Eliyahu Kamisher Time of article published Jun 9, 2020

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Washington - Democrats in the United States Congress announced a wide-ranging police reform bill on Monday, as mourners gathered for a public viewing of George Floyd's body in his home town of Houston, Texas.

Floyd, a black man, died two weeks ago while being held by a white police officer in Minnesota, sparking protests against police brutality and systemic racism across the country and around the world.

The legislation unveiled in both the House and Senate aims to reduce police violence, expand training and improve oversight and accountability at the national level.

The Justice in Policing Act would ban chokeholds, end certain so-called no-knock warrants, expand the use of body cameras, and establish a database for tracking officers' misconduct.

There would also be changes to qualified immunity, making it easier to sue officers for abuse.

"The world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in our country," said Karen Bass, a Democratic lawmaker. "A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly trained officers that are accountable to the public."

Prior to a press conference, the group of lawmakers kneeled down in the entrance hall of the US Capitol and held a moment of silence that lasted for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time an officer kept his knee on Floyd's neck.

It remains unclear if the bill will have support from Republicans, whose votes will be needed for it to pass in the Senate.

The legislation does not meet the calls of many activists to "defund the police."

George Floyd's casket is loaded into a hearse after being brought out of Fountain of Praise church in Houston following a public visitation. Picture: Godofredo A. Vásquez/Houston Chronicle via AP

President Donald Trump, seeking to portray himself as a law-and-order leader, bashed the demand as he met with law enforcement officials at the White House.

"There won't be defunding, there won't be dismantling of our police, and there's not going to be any disbanding of our police," Trump said.

Republican lawmaker Kevin McCarthy followed Trump's lead, tweeting: "Democrats want to defund you, but Republicans will never turn our backs on you."

Real change would likely come at the state and local level. In one of the first major reform plans, the Minneapolis City Council announced over the weekend it will disband the local police department and establish a new public safety system.

Officials in New York are considering shifting police department funds to youth initiatives, a proposal the city's police commissioner Dermot Shea on Monday said he "absolutely" supported.

"We can find the money to fund youth programmes in this city," he told broadcaster Fox News.

Meanwhile, thousands were expected to pay tribute to Floyd at the Fountain of Praise church in south-west Houston and participate in a public memorial on Monday and Tuesday ahead of a private funeral on Tuesday.

A live feed of the viewing showed a constant stream of mourners approaching the golden casket holding Floyd's body.

Some donned shirts bearing an image of Floyd's face and the phrase "I can't breathe," which were among his last words.

A protester holds a sign that reads "defund the police" after Seattle Police vacated the department's East Precinct and people continue to rally against racial inequality and the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd. Picture: Jason Redmond/Reuters

The former officer who pinned Floyd down, Derek Chauvin, had his bail set at 1.25 million dollars, or 1 million dollars with conditions, according to court records.

He accepted the conditions, which include no contact with Floyd's family, not working in a security or law enforcement capacity, not leaving Minnesota and surrendering firearms.

Chauvin, who is charged with second-degree murder, appeared in court in Minneapolis for the first time on Monday. His next hearing is scheduled for June 29.

A judge last week set bail for three other former officers involved in the case, accused of aiding and abetting, at 1 million dollars.

An image of George Floyd is projected on the base of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. The statue has been the focal point of protester over the death of George Floyd. Picture: Steve Helber/AP

The country has been rocked by sustained protests. Instances of harsh policing tactics against demonstrators have furthered the call for reforms.

The protests at points had descended into instances of rioting and looting, but over the weekend nearly every demonstration was peaceful.

Trump's election challenger, Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden, met Floyd's family for more than an hour in Houston, according to family attorney Benjamin Crump.

"He listened, heard their pain, and shared in their woe. That compassion meant the world to this grieving family," Crump tweeted.

Biden said afterwards he agreed with Floyd's daughter that her father's death could "change the world," in comments to broadcaster CBS.

"I think what's happened is one of those great inflection points in American history, for real in terms of civil liberty, civil rights, and - and - just treating people with dignity."

Biden added that he does not agree with calls to defund the police, but supports making federal aid conditional to police based on whether they meet "certain basic standards of decency and honorableness."


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