Rep. Jerry Nadler urges Senate to pass sweeping police reform bill

NYPD officers watch George Floyd protesters in June.
REUTERS/Idris Solomon

Brooklyn congressman Jerrold Nadler urged his counterparts in the United States Senate on Friday to pass a sweeping police reform bill the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. 

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Nadler said at a press conference. “We cannot let this moment pass without strong meaningful action.”

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bipartisan bill that passed Washington’s lower chamber by 55-vote margin on June 25, would change federal laws on police misconduct by ending qualified immunity to allow victims to receive monetary damages in civil court, and allow victims of police misconduct to prosecute cops not only for acting “willfully,” but also “recklessly.”

The bill would also institute a federal ban on chokeholds and carotid holds, create a Department of Justice task force to help enforce federally mandated rules, and create a nationwide police misconduct registry that would prevent problematic officers from being hired at different police departments, among other reforms

Nadler, who wrote the House bill along with southern California Rep. Karen Bass, said the Act aims to increase police accountability — but won’t change the penalties offending officers face.

“We’re really establishing new prohibitions. It’s not a question of changing the penalties,” he said. 

And while the bill does try to incentivize police department to follow the rules by conditioning federal funds on combating racial discrimination within their ranks, Nadler discussed the finer details on enforcement only in vague terms.  

“How it will be administered locally remains to be seen,” he said.

That room for interpretation, though, allows police departments to best adapt and implement these federally mandated standards to their needs, posited one Connecticut congresswoman.

“Much of what we’re proposing are national standards,” said Jahana Hayes at the July 10 press conference. “Department to department there will be difference.” 

The legislation, which was introduced into the Senate by the body’s only two Black Democrats — California’s Kamala Harris and New Jersey’s Cory Booker — now faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled chamber. 

Senate Republicans had previously attempted to pass their own version of a police reform bill, but Democrats blocked their measure, arguing that the legislation was weak and did not institute any tangible reforms beyond increasing data collection.  

Democrats’ push for a more sweeping bill comes nearly one month after New York State passed a slew of police reforms, including banning chokeholds, classifying false 911 calls as hate crimes, and repealing 50-a — a state civil code that shielded police personnel records from public review for decades. 

“The murder of George Floyd was just the tipping point of the systemic injustice and discrimination that has been going on in our nation for decades, if not centuries,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said when he signed those reforms into law on June 12. 

City Hall also aimed to increase transparency following weeks of Black Lives Matter protests against George Floyd’s killing. On June 17, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would create a publicly-accessible online database of police disciplinary records, and weeks later, the City Council passed a budget that ostensibly cut the NYPD’s funding by $1 billion — although reformers blasted those so-called cuts, arguing that many of them simply moved NYPD funds around rather than creating systemic changes. 

“New Yorkers will not be content with low hanging fruit when what’s needed is to uproot the tree,” tweeted Public Advocate Jumaane Williams before Council passed the budget.