Rep. Gabbard Votes to Pass Reforms to Improve Transparency, Training, & Accountability in Policing

Today, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) voted to pass H.R.7120, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which aims to improve accountability and transparency in policing in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the victim of a recent, widely-publicized instance of police brutality. 

The bill was passed in the House by a vote of 236-181 and now heads to the Senate for consideration. 

“George Floyd’s murder in broad daylight by a Minneapolis police officer was inexcusable, and has shined a light on the need for real reform,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “This bill brings us one step closer to necessary law enforcement reforms that better serve our communities. But this is only the beginning. There are deeper changes that must be made to ensure our nation’s leaders and those entrusted with protecting the lives of others truly embody the aloha spirit — respect and care for all, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity or anything else. In order to bring about real change, partisan politics must end. Now is the time for us to stand together as Americans, for each other and for the future of our nation, and truly uphold these words from the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

 Background: H.R. 7120, the Justice in Police Act improves police accountability and transparency by:

  • Establishing a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave the agency from moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.
  • Requiring states to report any incident where use of force is used against a civilian or against a law enforcement officer to the Department of Justice.
  • Amending the federal threshold for defining police misconduct from “willfully” violating constitutional rights to doing so with “knowing or reckless disregard.”
  • Curtailing qualified immunity, which broadly shields police officers from being liable for damages for civil rights violations, opening the door to more criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits. 
  • Granting subpoena power to the Department of Justice and state Attorneys General to investigate practices and patterns of discrimination and creating a grant program for state Attorneys General to develop authority to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments.
  • Creating law enforcement training programs to develop best practices and requiring the creation of law enforcement accreditation standards recommendations.
  • Prohibiting federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling, and mandating training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling.
  • Banning chokeholds, carotid holds, and no-knock warrants at the federal level.
  • Limiting the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.
  • Mandating the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal offices and requiring state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
  • Banning the use of facial recognition technology on police body cameras.
  • Prohibiting law enforcement officers from engaging in sexual activity with an individual who is under arrest, in detention, or in custody. 

Last week, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard also cosponsored H.Res.988, a resolution condemning all acts of police brutality, racial profiling, and excessive use of force and calls for the end of militarized policing practices in communities. 

In February, she voted to pass H.R.35, the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, a bill that would designate lynching as a federal hate crime. She has condemned President Trump’s racists, divisive Tweets and drawn attention to the growing divisiveness in the U.S. and contrasted it to the spirit of aloha at the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors, which was hosted in Honolulu, HI. 

In March 2019, she joined Rep. John Lewis (GA-05) for his annual pilgrimage to Alabama to commemorate the Civil Rights Movement. She is a cosponsor of H.R.40, which calls for the creation of a commission to explore reparations proposals to address the impacts of slavery. 

During her time in Congress she has commemorated the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, noting that the divisiveness and bigotry underlying Executive Order 9066 persists to this day and must be confronted with love and respect. She also confronted anti-Muslim bias and emphasized the importance of bringing communities togetherthrough compassion and justice, evoking the legacy of peace and non-violent change championed by Mahatma Gandhi.

Hawaii AG Urges Congress to Give State Attorneys General Authority to Investigate Unconstitutional Policing

Hawaii Attorney General Clare E. Connors today joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general led by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and New York Attorney General Letitia James urging Congress to expand federal law to give state attorneys general clear statutory authority to investigate patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing.

In a letter issued to Congressional leadership, the coalition is asking Congress to expand the law enforcement misconduct section of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which was enacted following the severe beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Department officers in 1991. The coalition argues that attorneys general should have authority to investigate and resolve patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing, particularly in the event that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) fails to use its authority to act.

“State Attorneys General have a duty to defend the Constitution and to ensure that our government institutions act justly,” said Attorney General Connors. “Accordingly, we should have the same authority as the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate unconstitutional policing and to mandate changes.”

Attorney General Connors and the coalition are calling on Congress to take urgent action as thousands of Americans march in cities throughout the country to protest police brutality and the systemic failures that perpetuate misconduct. The coalition is asking Congress to grant them statutory authority to conduct “pattern-or-practice” investigations, to obtain data regarding excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, and to bring appropriate actions in federal court to ensure constitutional policing in states, in particular when the federal government is unwilling or unable to act.

According to the attorneys general, the DOJ initiated 69 pattern-or-practice investigations between 1994 and 2017, which resulted in 40 court-enforceable consent decrees. However since 2017, the DOJ has largely curtailed the ability of federal law enforcement to use court-enforced agreements to reform local police departments. Since January 2017, the DOJ has initiated zero pattern-or-practice investigations into police conduct and has not entered any consent decrees. The attorneys general state that the DOJ’s refusal to address the pervasive problem of police misconduct has left communities without critical civil rights protections. As a remedy, the coalition is asking Congress to authorize state attorneys general, in addition to the DOJ, to investigate complaints of pattern-or-practice violations through the use of investigative subpoenas, which the DOJ has proposed in the past to help strengthen its oversight capacity.

In addition, the coalition is asking that attorneys general be granted authority to gather data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers. Such data would be essential when identifying law enforcement agencies that have above-average rates of excessive force complaints, which can also help identify at-risk law enforcement agencies before a devastating incident occurs.

For example, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing 46-year-old George Floyd on May 25 had 18 prior complaints filed against him with the Minneapolis Police Department’s Internal Affairs.

According to a 2018 report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, people of color comprise less than 38 percent of the nation’s population, yet they make up almost 63 percent of unarmed people killed by police. Additionally, unlawful use of force by police officers rarely leads to discipline, termination or criminal punishment. The advocacy group Mapping Police Violence found that 99% of police killings from 2014 to 2019 did not result in officers being charged with or convicted of a crime.

Joining Attorneys General Raoul, James and Connors in filing the comment letter are the attorneys general of California, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.

A copy of the letter can be found here.