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Lawmakers, activists urge more police accountability measures

Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Democratic Black

Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Democratic Black Caucus, seen on June 8, says new legislation is "a way of really supporting police, and supporting police departments, because I believe sincerely that no police chief wants to hire a criminal." Credit: Bloomberg / Al Drago

Congressional leaders and activists called for stronger police accountability laws during a virtual conference convened Monday by The National Urban League.

The conference featured messages and conversations with lawmakers and advocates at the National Urban League's annual Legislative Policy Conference. Speakers reviewed a slate of policy proposals aimed at ending systemic police violence.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), considered a contender for vice president under presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, said victims of police-involved deaths, including George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, "should still be alive today, and America is raw right now."

Last week, Congressional Democrats introduced the "Justice In Policing Act," which aims to hold police accountable by banning chokeholds and creating a national police misconduct database, among other measures

Citing the act that she introduced along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and the Congressional Black Caucus, Harris said in a video message  the United States needs "a national standard for use of force."

"Today, one has to only show that a police officer's excessive use of force was reasonable. But we all know you can reason away just about anything," Harris said. The standard should instead be, "whether that use of force was necessary." Further, she said, the bill would require independent investigators to probe police misconduct, rather than the district attorneys' offices that regularly work with police departments, to avoid the potential for conflicts of interest.

The bill, introduced June 8, also would make lynching a federal crime.

The White House and Congressional Republicans are scheduled to introduce their own bills later this week.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said during the conference that the Democrats' proposal would remedy "the ongoing situation that we have experienced since as long as we've been in the United States, with the relationship between police and the African American community."

Bass said that if the bill is signed into law, "police officers will no longer be able to kill folks and say 'well, that was a scary black man, so I was in fear of my life and that's why I killed them.' The police officers will be held accountable, they can be fired, they can be sued, they can be prosecuted once this bill is signed."

The legislation is "a way of really supporting police, and supporting police departments, because I believe sincerely that no police chief wants to hire a criminal," she said.

Booker said in a prerecorded message that recent police-involved deaths show the United States "is so falling short of the ideals which we herald."

He said, "this painful stretch where videotape is capturing what is a regular part of life for African Americans, seen on smartphones, painful assassinations, murders of African American, unarmed individuals — it's gut wrenching and painful, but it motivates us now more than ever to act, to act together in a coordinated, committed fashion toward ends that will advance our nation for everyone."

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