US protests: House Democrats pass police reform bill

George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passes by vote of 236-181.

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Democrats in the US House of Representatives voted on Thursday evening to pass sweeping police reforms, listed in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

The bill is the most ambitious proposed changes to police procedures and accountability in decades.

Backed by the nation’s leading civil rights groups, it seeks to respond to weeks of mass demonstrations, but it has almost no chance of becoming law.

On the eve of the vote, US President Donald Trump’s administration said he would veto the bill.

And Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said it would not pass in the Republican-held chamber.

After a different policing bill proposed by the Republicans was blocked on Wednesday by Democrats in the Senate, Mr Trump shrugged.

“If nothing happens with it, it’s one of those things,” Mr Trump said. “We have different philosophies.”

Congress is now at an impasse despite mass protests and polling that shows Americans overwhelmingly want changes after the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others killed in interactions with police.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: U.S. House Democrats participate in an event on police reform June 25, 2020 at the east front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The House is scheduled to vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act today.   Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP
US House Democrats participate hold a news conference ahead of the vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. AFP

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gathered with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on the steps of Capitol Hill.

Ms Pelosi challenged Congress not to allow the deaths to have been in vain or the outpouring of public support for law enforcement changes to go unanswered.

“Exactly one month ago, George Floyd spoke his final words – ‘I can’t breathe’ – and changed the course of history,” she said.

Ms Pelosi said the Senate faced a choice “to honour George Floyd’s life or to do nothing".

It has been a month since Floyd’s death on May 25 death sparked a global reckoning over police tactics and racial injustice.

Since then, funeral services were held for Rayshard Brooks, an African-American man shot and killed by police in Atlanta.

Politicians who have been working from home during the Covid-19 crisis were summoned to the Capitol for an emotional, daylong debate.\

Dozens are voting by proxy under new pandemic rules.

During the day, several Democrats read the names of those killed, shared experiences of racial bias and echoed support of Black Lives Matter activists.

Karen Bass, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said hundreds of thousands of people “in every state in the union” are marching in the streets to make sure Floyd “will not be just another black man dead at the hands of the police.”

In the stalemate over the policing overhaul, both bills share common elements that could be grounds for a compromise.

Central to both would be the creation of a national database of incidents where too much force has been used, to provide transparency on officers’ records if they transfer from one agency to another.

The bills would restrict police choke holds and set up new training procedures, including the use of body cameras.

The Democratic bill goes much further, mandating many of those changes, while also revising the federal statute for police misconduct and holding officers personally liable for damages in lawsuits.

It also would halt the practice of sending military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.

Neither bill goes as far as some activists want with calls to defund the police and shift resources to other community services.

Before the vote, the parents of other Americans killed in police encounters, including Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and John Crawford, endorsed the Justice in Policing Act.

“The unjust killing of a loved one, especially at the hands of law enforcement, is a pain too many families have been forced to endure," they said in a statement.

"We are proud to support this effort because it’s the right thing to do."