WASHINGTON — The House passed a sweeping police reform bill on Thursday largely along party lines to address systemic racism and police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
“Exactly one month ago, George Floyd spoke his final words — ‘I can’t breathe’ — and changed the course of history,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on the steps outside the Capitol Thursday morning, flanked by House Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, chaired by Rep. Karen Bass of California.
Americans have since been demanding that that “moment of national agony become one of national action,” Pelosi said hours before the 236-181 vote.
Applause broke out in the chamber after the bill's passage. Three Republicans — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Will Hurd of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan — broke ranks and joined Dems in supporting the bill.
“The George Floyd Justice and Policing Act will fundamentally transform the culture of policing to address systemic racism, curb police brutality and bring accountability to our police departments,” Pelosi said. “It will save lives.”
Bass said that it was not until the advent of cellphone cameras that stories of police abuse “were finally exposed to the world,” and that deaths were previously “disregarded, not believed, not acknowledged.”
“We are supposed to be the beacon of hope for human rights in other countries, and the Justice and Policing Act is a bill for human rights in our country,” Bass said.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., presided over the afternoon debate as speaker pro tempore. Omar represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, which covers the city of Minneapolis, where Floyd died on May 25 while in police custody after an officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes.
“This is the first step in bringing real change to policing in this country,” said Omar in a statement following the vote. “My community has been crying out for justice and real reform for decades."
"This legislation is an important step in the right direction, but we can’t stop here, she said. "We must heed the calls of the people who are impacted by police brutality daily and restructure broken police departments across our country."
Democrats introduced the legislation this month amid the national outcry over Floyd’s death. The legislation would ban all neck restraints, including chokeholds and the kind used on Floyd by a then-Minneapolis police officer, as well as no-knock warrants in drug cases, as was used in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.
The legislation would also require police departments to send data on the use of force to the federal government and create a grant program that would allow state attorneys general to create an independent process to investigate misconduct or excessive use of force. The bill would also make it easier for people to recover damages when police departments violate their civil rights and, for the first time, make lynching a federal hate crime.
The House vote comes a day after Democrats blocked a Republican policing reform proposal in the Senate from advancing to debate, calling the legislation flawed and a nonstarter. A motion to open debate on the measure, which needed 60 votes, failed 55-45.
On the Capitol steps Thursday morning, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., criticized the Senate bill, saying it “does nothing real.”
“This is not the time for half measures. It's not the time for further study. It's not the time for sham, fake reform,” he said. “We must insist, the country insists, on real change, that Black lives matter, and that the Senate, the Republicans in the Senate, cannot be allowed and will not be allowed to thwart the will of the country.”
Pelosi said Thursday the Senate will have a simple choice — "to honor George Floyd’s life or do nothing.”
Rebecca Shabad reported from Washington, D.C. and Dartunorro Clark from New York.