It’s been a year since the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act bill was passed in the House in the U.S. and it continues to remain in standstill as many wait for it to be passed in the Senate. The Act is a reform bill that was created after the murder of George Floyd last May.
The bill was created to roll back some of the protection for officers who knowingly commit a crime while on the job. The bill lowers the “criminal intent standard, limits qualified immunity, and grants administrative subpoena power to the Department of Justice … in pattern-or-practice investigation.”
Some members of the Democratic party wanted to have the bill passed by May 25, which was the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, but they are failing to get the full support of the Republican party.
The Republican party has suggested some changes for the bill that diverts away from the true purpose of the bill’s creation. One of the changes is a limit on chokeholds instead of an outright ban.
Qualified immunity is one of the main things that will be changed with the bill, and Gurpreet Singh Johal, Kwantlen Polytechnic University criminology instructor, says this change helps citizens if their civil rights were violated by police actions.
Johal says qualified immunity was about the public not having “legal recourse” if the police violated their civil rights, and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act bill could “open up the police to civil cases.”
He says the bill focuses on reform and some questions that need to be asked about the role of the police in society. Questions like, “do we need the police in its current incarnation?”
“Historically, the police have been created in a very particular way. So much of it was based on the slave patrols in the southern United States,” Johal says.
As much as there are some changes for accountability in this policing bill, Johal says many need to understand that the policing system is built in a specific way and doesn’t need fixing. Instead, there needs to be an alternative to the system.
“This bill is great for reform. But it does not think to get rid of police as a particular type of threat to communities. We have to think about what kinds of alternatives have been historically created by Black communities and by Indigenous communities to offset the violence that was coming from the police,” he says.
Michael Ma, a member of KPU’s Anti-racism Task Force, uses the phrase “violent relationship” to describe the interactions between the police and communities.
Ma says the police meet people in distress regularly, and some alternatives to using the police for these situations could be reallocating funding that goes to the police to psychiatric nurses, street nurses, or professionals who are trained in dealing with people in distress or trauma.
“Get rid of the idea of policing. Policing still needs to happen, but it needs to happen by the community, for the community, not necessarily by people who think of the community as perpetually a threat,” says Johal.
If the bill is passed, Johal says the new adjustments to qualified immunity would hold the police accountable. If it’s passed in the original state, without the changes suggested by the Republican Party, it’s historic but still not enough.
Johal says Canada has its own version of racial profiling, like “carding, stop and frisk” and passing this bill will cause a ripple effect here in Canada.
Passing the bill is the first step and Johal says more conversation needs to be had about “the economy that is built around exploitation of black and brown bodies, and then how all of a sudden, with the legalization of drugs, those black and brown bodies are still in jail … and families have been destroyed, but now … white bodies are profiting off of it.”
“This bill is important. We don’t need to understate the significance of it. However, it’s not like it’s the end all be all,” Johal says.
“There’s still more work to be done.”