WASHINGTON, D.C. [06/17/20]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) delivered her second in a series of Senate floor speeches focused on finding solutions to address systemic racism and much-needed changes in policing. In her remarks, Sen. Smith highlighted the need to pass the Justice in Policing Act.
You can access video of Sen. Smith’s remarks here.
“The Senate needs to act now to take up and pass the Justice in Policing Act. I joined my colleagues, Senators Booker and Harris, in introducing this bill last week, and I am grateful for their strong leadership towards creating a more fair and equitable justice system,” said Sen. Smith in her remarks from the Senate floor. “The scale of the injustice can feel overwhelming and the path can seem very long, but passing the Justice in Policing Act would provide concrete steps on that path. It is a necessary step towards stopping the killing, and advancing our work to make the transformative changes we need to fulfill the promise of freedom and equality in America. The Justice in Policing Act would make some of the changes we urgently need to stop the scourge of police violence against communities of color.”
You can read Sen. Smith’s remarks as prepared for delivery below:
The Justice in Policing Act and Creating Transformative Change in Policing
Senator Tina Smith
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
It’s been a little over three weeks since my constituent, George Floyd, was murdered by the Minneapolis police.
And for a little over three weeks, millions of people have marched in the streets, raising their voices in grief and anger to protest the police brutality and systemic racism that killed George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and Philando Castile, and Jamar Clark. And so many others.
But the killing hasn’t stopped.
Just last Friday, police in Atlanta killed Rayshard Brooks, shooting him twice in the back.
The killing won’t stop unless we take action.
M. President, the Senate needs to act now to take up and pass the Justice in Policing Act.
I joined my colleagues, Senators Booker and Harris, in introducing this bill last week, and I am grateful for their strong leadership towards creating a more fair and equitable justice system.
The scale of the injustice can feel overwhelming and the path can seem very long, but passing the Justice in Policing Act would provide concrete steps on that path. It is a necessary step towards stopping the killing, and advancing our work to make the transformative changes we need to fulfill the promise of freedom and equality in America.
The Justice in Policing Act would make some of the changes we urgently need to stop the scourge of police violence against communities of color. This legislation would prohibit some of the most dangerous police practices, strictly limit the use of force, and begin holding law enforcement accountable, in a system that was designed to shield them from consequences.
First, the bill prohibits the most dangerous police practices. It would ban the use of chokeholds, like the ones that police used to kill Eric Garner and George Floyd. It would also ban no-knock warrants, which the police used when they killed Breonna Taylor in her own bed.
Chokeholds pose an unacceptable risk, and that risk is not borne equally.
Black men are nearly three times more likely to be killed by police use of force than white men.
The use of no-knock warrants also disproportionately harms communities of color. The practice was popularized in the 1990s as a tool in the War on Drugs, so that officers pursuing drug charges could enter a person’s home unannounced, with guns drawn, inherently and unnecessarily endangering their lives.
Communities and activists have been warning us about the inherent danger and injustice of chokeholds and no-knock warrants for decades.
It’s long past time to end the debate and ban these practices nationally.
But experience has shown that it’s not enough to ban egregious practices. When Los Angeles banned chokeholds in 1982, officers took up batons to beat and subdue civilians.
In 1991, the officers who beat Rodney King actually argued that their actions was necessary because they weren’t permitted to use a chokehold. And those officers were never fully held accountable.
American policing resists reform and accountability. So it’s not enough for us to ban the most dangerous practices.
We need to set a national standard for police use of force. This is what the Justice in Policing Act would do.
Today, the current standard in law asks only if an officer’s use of force was reasonable. This makes it nearly impossible to hold officers accountable, because the system – a system designed to protect officers, not black and brown bodies – has built up decades of precedent excusing officers for the harm they cause.
If we’re serious when we say that black lives matter. And if we are serious about our commitment to equal justice, we need to hold police officers to a higher standard of care in their use of force.
That’s why the Justice in Policing Act would set a national use of force standard that asks whether the force was necessary, and holds officers responsible for exhausting all other options before resorting to violence.
Third, the Justice in Policing Act would eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement officers, and reset the impossibly high standard for convicting law enforcement officers of a crime.
Our system today effectively puts cops above the law by insulating them from civil and criminal liability when they violate the rights of those they are sworn to protect.
No one should be shielded from accountability for their actions on a free society.
When we change these rules, we will finally be able to provide long-denied justice for victims of police brutality, their families and communities. But also, we’ll be able to prevent such brutality in the first place.
When law enforcement officers believe they will never face consequences for crossing the line, they will continue to ignore that line. The Justice in Policing Act will begin to make this change.
M. President, the House is poised to pass the Justice in Policing Act next week. I urge the Senate to take it up and pass it soon after.
We are at a crossroad, and we cannot fail to act.
Four hundred years of structural racism cannot be overcome with a single piece of legislation, or even by a single generation of legislators. But passing this bill is a crucial step towards stopping the killing and violence against communities of color.
It is a necessary step on the path toward racial justice in America.
The path towards justice leads us to transformative changes to redefine the role of the police in our communities.
Reimagining policing means recognizing that not every social ill and every emergency is answered by calling in armed police. We have other, better, more effective tools to address the hurt caused by substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness and economic insecurity.
Reimagining policing means asking whether outfitting officers with military-grade weapons and equipment makes us safer, or does it escalate conflict and violence, and encourage officers to treat communities as hostile enemies.
Reimagining policing means addressing the over-policing of communities of color. It means that we question whether anyone is really safer when we surveil neighborhoods searching for possible violations, which only feeds the system of mass incarceration.
It means reassessing our criminal code, our justice system, and the sentencing laws that irrevocably disrupt lives and communities for minor offenses with minimal impacts on public safety.
Above all, reimagining policing means recognizing that our current system is not inevitable. It is the result of thousands of policy choices, made over hundreds of years, designed to control and punish black, brown and indigenous communities. Choices which compound injustice and unequal opportunity.
As we imagine a new way forward, we need to face uncomfortable truths about the history of policing in this country.
We can, and we must, make different choices now.
We know better, so we must do better.
I want to close by thanking the community leaders and young activists who are showing us the path forward.
This path requires us to be courageous. It requires us to be humble. It requires us to be uncomfortable.
But it is a path rooted in love, and in trust, and in hope.
I am committed to walking the path my constituents are forging. And I hope my colleagues, and all of my fellow Americans will do the same.