Cicilline Remarks on Justice in Policing Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (RI-01) urged swift passage of the Justice in Policing Act during today’s House Judiciary Committee consideration of the bill.

Click the image below for a video of Cicilline’s remarks. The text of his speech, as delivered, is embedded below.

David N. Cicilline
Justice in Policing Act
June 17, 2020

Thank you, Mr. Chairman for your extraordinary leadership that brings us to this markup today. I’d also like to recognize the magnificent leadership of Congresswoman Karen Bass, the Chair of the Crime Subcommittee and the Congressional Black Caucus, on this historic legislation.

Before we convened this morning, my thoughts turned to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Nearly a year to the day before he was gunned down, in April 1967, Dr. King visited my district in Rhode Island for an address on civil rights.

“I haven’t lost faith in the future,” King said that Sunday morning. “But I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism or of racial inequality.”

More than 50 years later, we are here once again because of the madness of racial inequality.

In our country:

  • Black people are more than five times as likely as Whites to be arrested for the mere suspicion of a crime. 
  • The police are nearly four times as likely to use force when confronting a Black suspect. 
  • And Black men are two and a half times as likely as White men to be killed by a police officer.

The fact is our criminal justice system so often victimizes people of color is that it is built on a foundation of racism that was laid while the Civil War was still being fought.

In January 1865, Congress passed a joint resolution proposing a 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution to outlaw slavery. 

But while the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, it replaced it with a new system of racial control that allowed Black people to be arrested on minor offenses and put to work as unpaid laborers as punishment.

We are still living with the legacy of that decision today. The imprisonment rate for Black people is more than five times the rate among White people. The prison-industrial complex has devastated generations of Black men and women through Jim Crow, the War on Drugs, and the continued harassment, intimidation, and killing of Black men, women, and children today. 

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Rayshard Brooks, and so many more Black Americans are just the latest in a long line of modern-day lynchings that cry out for justice. 

It is our solemn responsibility to finally correct the painful injustices of the past 155 years.

We must pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act because George Floyd mattered and because Black Lives Matter.

First, this bill makes it easier to hold bad cops accountable for their actions. It removes barriers to prosecution and recovering damages from officers who violate a person’s civil rights. The doctrine of qualified immunity has created a system where it is virtually impossible to get justice for victims of police misconduct and racial bias.

A system where an officer of the peace can escape liability by virtue of his badge and gun is a system that must end. Never again should an officer feel empowered to choke the life out of an unarmed Black man whose crime was selling loose cigarettes. Never again should an officer shoot and kill an unarmed Black man in the back as he runs away. 

We need to end the era of police officers behaving and looking like troops in a combat zone. That’s why the Justice in Policing Act takes steps to demilitarize police departments. Without trust, police cannot do their jobs. And it is hard to build trust when at first glance a law enforcement officer looks more like an occupying soldier. We need police departments to be trusted institutions in our community and the officers and advocates for the people who live there.

To that end, this bill increases transparency, while encouraging departments to meet a gold standard in training, hiring, and de-escalation strategies. It establishes the first-ever national database of civilian police encounters, including the use of force and traffic stops, and requires the collection, analysis, and release of such data. It also requires the collection of data on police-misconduct to track and prevent bad cops from moving from one department to another to avoid accountability. 

It addresses systemic racism and bias by cracking down on racial and religious profiling. It bans the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants like those used on George Floyd, Eric Garner, and Breonna Taylor. Taking these steps will help save lives, ensure accountability, and improve public safety. 

All of us here today know that we can do better in this country. We can end the systemic racism in policing. We can and must do that. Our communities deserve this and so do the overwhelming number of officers who do their job professionally and with honor every day. 

But as Dr. King reminded us, at another speech in Rhode Island in October 1966, “The appalling silence of the good people is as serious as the vitriolic words of the bad people.”

So my colleagues, do not be silent. Rise to this moment. Set aside politics. Join us and fixing what is broken in America, and we’ll be able to look back on this day and know that together, we made a difference.

As George Floyd’s brother reminded us. Your names will become famous too, like his brother if you in fact you do the right thing and respond to racial injustice in this country.

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