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The Difficult Path to Changing Policing in America

By José Santos Woss, October 10, 2020


During FCNL’s Annual Meeting and Quaker Public Policy Institute, Nov. 14-17, we will focus our legislative ask to changing policing in America.

We know that police operate very differently in Black and brown communities than they do in white neighborhoods.

We know that police operate very differently in Black and brown communities than they do in white neighborhoods. In Kenosha, WI, we recently saw Jacob Blake, a Black man, shot seven times in the back by police as his family looked on. This is seemingly one of an endless string of news stories involving a police officer shooting an unarmed Black person.

In changing policing legislation, we honor the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Tamir Rice, and countless other Black people who have been killed by police officers.

These examples of state violence against Black people are proof that institutional racism exists across government, including in the police. It must be rooted out and our lobbying during Annual Meeting is especially important.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation joined the civil rights community, led by the Leadership Conference, in submitting eight recommendations to reform policing:

  1. Require a national standard that use of force be reserved for only when necessary as a last resort after exhausting reasonable options;

  2. Prohibit all maneuvers that restrict the flow of blood or oxygen to the brain, including neck holds, chokeholds, and similar excessive force, deeming the use of such force a federal civil rights violation;

  3. Prohibit racial profiling with robust data collection on police-community encounters and law enforcement activities. Data should capture all demographic categories and be disaggregated;

  4. Eliminate federal programs that provide military equipment to law enforcement;

  5. Prohibit the use of no-knock warrants, especially for drug searches;

  6. Change the 18 U.S.C. Sec. 242 mens rea requirement from willfulness to recklessness, permitting prosecutors to successfully hold law enforcement accountable for the deprivation of civil rights and civil liberties;

  7. Develop a national public database that would cover all police agencies in the United States and its territories; and,

  8. End the qualified immunity doctrine that prevents police from being held legally accountable when they break the law.

The path forward is a difficult one. The House acted and passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R.7120), which included most of the eight points.

The Senate, however, proposed a more limited approach with S.3985, the JUSTICE Act. This is a bill that seeks to study the problem and create commissions rather than taking concrete steps to address the issue. That is why it failed to move forward.

We know what the problem looks like. Police are local institutions and are funded by city, county, and state governments. What we need to support local police reform efforts are meaningful reforms at the federal level. Many Republicans feel that the Justice in Policing Act usurps the role of states and local governments. That’s a part of why many did not support the House bill.

We need to continue lobbying our members of Congress that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R.7120) is the right path forward to solving the crisis of local policing in the United States. We cannot wait for change to come from the 18,000 local law enforcement agencies around the country.

Change must come fast so that we are not lamenting the death of another Black man or woman again.

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José Santos Woss

  • Legislative Manager, Criminal Justice and Election Integrity

José is the Legislative Manager for Criminal Justice and Election Integrity. He leads FCNL’s work on criminal justice reform, election integrity, and policing. He helps to lead the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, an alliance of more than 40 national faith groups advocating to end mass incarceration.