To Save Black Lives, and the Soul of Our Nation, Congress Must Act Boldly

By Kamala Harris & Cory Booker

For too long, Black people in America have been burdened with the unjust responsibility of keeping ourselves safe from police.

We have been raised by elders and have been taught to pass along to future generations the understanding that every day, we must prepare how to navigate and even survive in a world where there is still no equal protection under the law and where too many officers view Black people as a threat to be protected against instead of people worth protecting. This is a fact we are reminded of every time we learn the name of another Black person who has been killed by law enforcement — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice, who should have been celebrating his eighteenth birthday yesterday — while recognizing there are so many more whose names we will never know.

And for too long, Congress has failed to require accountability and hold officers who do wrong responsible for their actions to prevent the killing of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement from occurring again, and again, and again.

It is important that at this moment, Congress and the country are able to recognize the truth that America has a wretched and disturbing history of Black people being killed by law enforcement.

But recognizing that painful reality is not the same as taking bold action to change it.

The Republican JUSTICE ACT was voted down in the Senate earlier this week after an effort by Majority Leader McConnell to push a bill through with no measures of accountability, no end to the kinds of egregious practices like chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases, and no input from the civil rights organizations that have been working on these issues for decades. In short, the JUSTICE Act would have wholly failed to bring the changes needed to policing in America that will save lives.

Our opposition to the JUSTICE Act was not about a Republican bill versus a Democratic bill — it was about the fact that proceeding with an approach so threadbare and ineffectual and calling it progress would actually set us back in the effort to address the very serious problems we have with policing in America.

A little over two weeks ago we, along with many of our Democratic colleagues in the Senate and the House, introduced the Justice in Policing Act, a bill that zeroes in on the areas most in need of urgent change: ensuring accountability for law enforcement in our courts, providing oversight of police departments and implementing transparency into their use of force.

Our bill will make sweeping changes to law enforcement practices and systems of accountability and begin to address and root out deadly systematic bias — and yes racism — in policing.

Our bill was designed with the understanding that, to address police brutality and discriminatory policing, we have to be able to hold police accountable in our courts for misconduct. We must reform the criminal and civil standards that apply to law enforcement misconduct, which includes changing the provision in federal law known as “Section 242” that deals with criminal law enforcement conduct and eliminating “qualified immunity” for police so that we can ensure dangerous police are held accountable in court.