WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (H.R. 7120) on June 25. This legislation, which was introduced by social worker Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is a crucial step forward in police reform and dismantling the structural inequality left from legacies of discrimination and white supremacy — the root cause of aggressive, brutal, and unaccountable policing.
It is vital that the Senate follow the House’s lead by crafting and passing similar legislation that includes strong provisions to reconceptualize and transform public safety and disrupt and dismantle racist policies and practices in policing.
Real change happens at the local level; therefore, communities need support from bills such as H.R. 7120 to help transform local law enforcement.
“Racism is real and must be eliminated. Police brutality is real and must be eliminated. Oppressive policing is real and must be eliminated. NASW stands against racism, police brutality and oppressive policing,” said Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW, Chief Executive Officer of NASW.
“The Senate must take prompt action to enact comprehensive reforms to ensure that racist and oppressive policing are forever eradicated from American public safety services. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people deserve public safety that respects and protects their rights and their human dignity,” McClain said.
The House bill establishes a federal standard for use of force, bans chokeholds, and prohibits the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases. The bill also provides for reforms of qualified immunity, making it easier to pursue claims against police officers in civil court. Additionally, it calls for changes in the standard for evaluating whether use of force was justified. Currently, police officers only need to prove that use of force was "reasonable." Under the House bill, officers need to prove that use of force is "necessary."
Other provisions in the legislation include incentivizing state attorneys general to investigate local police departments and providing grants for states to create procedures for investigating police-involved deaths. The legislation calls for a National Police Misconduct Registry, and mandates that state and local law enforcement turn over data on use of force broken out by race, gender, disability, religion, and age.
The bill also aims to address cultural biases in policing by mandating racial bias training, requires federal law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, and limits transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.
Elected officials in Congress, state legislatures, city councils, governors’ and mayors’ offices must be intentional about ending government-sanctioned excessive use of force and violence. There are more than 18,000 federal, state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies in the United States. Therefore, local communities must play a key role in their transformation. The communities impacted by proposed reforms must be included in the planning and decision processes for adopting, expanding, and cultivating anti-racist public safety services.
NASW also implores Congress, state, county, and local governments to reallocate and reinvest resources from law enforcement into mental health, living wage jobs, affordable housing, and alternatives for anti-racist public safety services. These investments will lead to decriminalization of poverty, homelessness, and emergency mental health and help dismantle discriminatory and oppressive police practices that perpetuate white supremacist ideologies.
As the fight for racial justice expands in our nation, NASW will continue to boldly stand for racial equity and work to end multiple injustices facing African-Americans, Latinx, and Indigenous people today: not just police brutality, but also mass incarceration, poverty, unemployment, voter suppression, educational and health disparities and more. Social workers can help by urging their elected officials to support these critical issues.
The struggle continues.
Contact your Chapter for more information about racial justice work and police reform activities in your community.