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Washington University in St. Louis

Congress unlikely to act on police reform

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are at a stalemate over enacting sweeping police reforms in the wake of the death of George Floyd and other Black Americans. The gulf between the Democratic and Republican proposed solutions is wide and neither side seems willing to bend, says a law expert on criminal reform at Washington University in St. Louis.

“We are in a moment of national reckoning,” said Daniel Harawa, assistant professor of practice at the School of Law and director of the school’s Appellate Clinic.

“After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and in the wake of police officers killing countless other Black men, women and children with impunity, we as a society are finally rethinking the way Black people are policed in this country,” he said. “The cries for change have been loud and sustained, in cities big and small, in states blue and red.”

Harawa’s scholarship proposes areas for reform in the criminal legal system. His research explores the ways in which existing law can be bolstered to protect defendants’ constitutional rights, with a special focus on ensuring race does not influence the criminal process.

“Despite widespread consensus on the need for change, it seems unlikely that Congress will act,” he said.

“The Republican-proposed fix, the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act, includes the creation of a nationwide use-of-force database, incentive programs for better policing and the establishment of task forces to study issues surrounding policing,” Harawa said.

“On the other hand, the Democratic solution, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, is more sweeping and includes measures such as eliminating qualified immunity, ending racial profiling, banning the use of chokeholds and building a national database to track police misconduct.

“Despite widespread consensus on the need for change, it seems unlikely that Congress will act. … The country is clamoring for change. Hopefully, Congress heeds the call.”

“The gulf between the Democratic and Republican proposed solutions is wide and neither side seems willing to bend.”

A recent AP poll shows that nearly all Americans support criminal justice reform.

“A majority seek major changes in, if not a complete overhaul of, our criminal legal system,” Harawa said.

“Significant change requires more than task forces. It requires comprehensive reform that, at a minimum, ensures police are held accountable for their misconduct. It requires a reimagining of our public safety apparatus, investing in community-based services rather than relying on punitive policing. And it requires us to interrogate the ways in which racial bias permeates all facets of our criminal legal system, doing the hard work of dismantling the systemic racism that exists at the system’s core. These are some necessary steps toward lasting difference,” Harawa said.

“The country is clamoring for change. Hopefully, Congress heeds the call.”

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