Rep. Ilhan Omar is introducing legislation to create an independent federal agency to review all deaths in police custody, situations in which an officer shot a suspect and police violence that results in severe bodily injury.
Omar represents Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by a police officer last Monday. Since then, primarily peaceful demonstrations have been violently shut down by police in the Twin Cities and nation-wide: protestors have been arrested, shot at, and beaten; residents shot on their porches with what looked to be paint marking rounds; and journalists have been wrestled to the ground and pepper sprayed; shot with rubber bullets and blinded, and left bloodied.
Elsewhere around the country, the police response has led to at least one other death, when officers in Louisville shot and killed David McAtee, the black owner of a local barbecue business, and left his body on the street for twelve hours.
Omar is proposing a new, independent federal agency, the National Police Brutality Investigation Board. Her legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. calls for the board to issue recommendations that are non-binding but admissible in court. The legislation also proposes that federal funding for law enforcement be reduced or revoked should the board find that they are not taking meaningful action on the board’s recommendations.
The legislation models the proposed new agency on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent agency created in 1967 to investigate civil transportation accidents. Similar to the NTSB, the proposed agency would consist of an 8-member Board, whose members would serve six-year staggered terms. Four would be appointed by the president, two by the Speaker of the House, and two by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. No more than four board members would be from the same political party.
Within one day of a reported incident, the board’s staff would be dispatched to gather evidence surrounding the incident, as well as contextual information about any history of excessive police force use or civil rights violations in the community.
The agency in many ways would duplicate the efforts of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which has essentially abandoned any investigation of deaths in police custody. The DOJ has only launched one public investigation into a law enforcement agency for violating the constitution since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, compared to over a dozen during George W. Bush’s first term and 15 during Barack Obama’s first term.
Other congressional responses
Omar is authoring three other bills in response to Floyd’s killing at the hands of police: a bill to criminalize police violence against protesters, a bill to amend the Insurrection Act and curtail a president’s ability to deploy the military without congressional consent, and a bill to establish an emergency relief fund for communities trying to rebuild after social and civil rights crises.
The Congressional Black Caucus will take the lead on the legislative response to nationwide protests, with the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The current plan is to sift through numerous legislative proposals and then vote on them at the end of June.
During a call with the House Democratic Caucus on Monday, members suggested varying legislative responses, like the collection of police data or the repeal of police officer “Bill of Rights” laws at the state level, according to Politico.
Additionally, Justin Amash, the Libertarian Representative from Michigan, will introduce a bill this week to end qualified immunity for police officers, which would allow individual police officers to be sued for illegal or unconstitutional acts.
Omar intends to support that bill as well.
“We cannot fully right these wrongs until we admit we have a problem,” Omar said in a statement. “As the People’s House, the House of Representatives must acknowledge these historical injustices and call for a comprehensive solution. There are many steps on the path to justice, but we must begin to take them.”