Schumer Floor Remarks On The Introduction Of The Justice In Policing Act And Demanding Senator McConnell Put Policing Reform And Coronavirus Relief Legislation On The Senate Floor Before July 4

June 8, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor today to call for action on law enforcement reform and COVID relief legislation to address the current crises Americans are facing and to announce the Justice In Policing Act, legislation that would end police brutality, hold police accountable, and improve transparency in policing through meaningful, structural change. He also called on President Trump to reopen Lafayette Square, a space and symbol of Americans’ freedom to express their First Amendment rights. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

“Equal justice under law.” Those words are etched in stone above the doors of the Supreme Court, a bedrock principle of the American system.

But these past few weeks have been a searing reminder of how that principle does not reflect the lived experience of many Americans. For black Americans, confrontations with the police are not the same as white Americans. You could be standing on a street corner, like Eric Garner, or asleep in your bed, like Breonna Taylor, and have your life ended by police. George Floyd’s brutal death at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis sparked peaceful protests across this country because, as singular and tragic as the death of George Floyd was, his experience was one that resonated with far too many black Americans.

That’s why hundreds of thousands of Americans have engaged in peaceful demonstrations against police violence and systemic racism. From Los Angeles to Washington DC, from Seattle to New York City—where I joined shoulder to shoulder with my fellow New Yorkers on Saturday—Americans from all walks of life have marched, sang, prayed, cried, and spoken out. That Black Lives Matter. That our country promises justice for all, but too often only delivers it for some.

The protests weren’t confined to big cities. Thousands turned out in in Allentown, Pennsylvania and Fayettville, Faimont, West Virginia and Havre, Montana. There were Black Lives Matter protests in Vidor, Texas, a city with a troubled history as a haven for the KKK, and Harvard, Nebraska, a city with only 1,000 residents.

Remarkably, though these protests concerned events within our borders, they sparked outrage far outside of them. The name George Floyd was chanted in Rome, and Paris, and London…in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Mexico City.

This is a rare moment in our nation’s history. Injustice stares us so plainly in the face that the great mass of our people are demanding change. The institutions of our government, our democracy, have an obligation to answer. Today, we are taking the first of many necessary steps to respond to our national pain with bold action.

This morning, I joined Speaker Pelosi and several of our House colleagues, Representatives Bass, Clyburn, Nadler and Jeffries, as well as my colleagues Senators Booker and Harris, to introduce the Justice in Policing Act—a response to the recent protests and the years of failures to reform our police departments.

The Justice in Policing Act proposes crucial reforms to combat racial bias and excessive force by law enforcement.

It would ban the use of chokeholds and other tactics that have left black Americans dead.

It would limit the transfer of military weaponry and equipment to police departments.

It would change the legal standard to make it easier to hold police accountable for misconduct when they use deadly force on American citizens.

And through increased data and transparency, as well as important modifications to training and practices, it would help prevent police misconduct in the first place.

This has never been done before at the federal level, and it would encourage the same changes at the state and local level in order for those police departments to receive federal funds.

In the Senate, Democrats are going to fight like hell to make this proposal a reality. Americans who took to the streets have demanded change. With this legislation, Democrats are heeding their call.

Now is the time for Leader McConnell to commit to putting police reform on the floor of the Senate before July 4th to be debated and voted on. Several Republicans have acknowledged “egregious wrongs” but too few have expressed a need for floor action. Too many remained silent. Maybe our Republican friends are hoping the issue goes away. I promise them it will not. Democrats won’t let this go away, and we will not rest until we achieve real reforms.

Leader McConnell: let’s have the debate. Not just on TV and Twitter but on the floor of the United States Senate. Legislation. Debate. A divided nation cannot wait for healing and for solutions.

The Republican majority must not continue to squander the Senate’s time on right wing judges and conspiracy hearings. History will judge whether this chamber responds to the nation’s pain with action, or lets an old and terrible wound in our society continue to fester.

Because the poison of racism infects more than our criminal justice system. It runs much deeper than that. There are racial disparities in housing and health care, education and the economy, income and wealth—and COVID has only placed a magnifying glass on all these forms of inequality.

There are now approximately 118,000 confirmed deaths from to COVID in the United States. Black Americans have died at a disproportionate rate. As hospitals and health care workers have scrambled to secure enough supplies and create enough space, those institutions that serve communities of color have been the most strained. And as our medical crisis led to an economic crisis, it is largely African Americans and Latinos who have seen their jobs disappear faster and more permanently.

The president is evidently prepared to declare the fight against COVID-19 over because 15% of our country’s citizens are unemployed, not 20%, even though that figure—15%—is higher than at any point during the great recession. The reason unemployment isn’t as shockingly awful as it might have been was that Congress leapt into action at the outset of the pandemic, and passed a major bipartisan bill, the CARES Act, to keep our country afloat. The bill that eventually passed was bipartisan, but Democrats had to push Republicans almost every step of the way to get many of the improvements in the bill. Much of the aid the bill gave to the unemployment, to our health care systems, and to truly small businesses was because Democrats insisted.

If the president and Senate Republicans declare victory too early, if they lull into complacency now, if they wait too long to pass another round of emergency relief, the economic conditions in our country will deteriorate. If we do nothing, more Americans will lose their jobs. More Americans will lose their health care. More Americans will struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. And more Americans will see the small businesses that they sweated so hard to create fail. I fear that the recent bump in the employment number—caused in large part because of the stimulus money we pumped into the economy—will create in Republicans a sense of complacency and the economy will get even worse.

The fact that we are confronted by so many challenges, so many challenges, can seem overwhelming. The fact and the consequences of Republican inaction—the fact that they fall so heavily on Black and Brown Americans is so confounding. But there is no reason that we cannot respond to this moment of national crisis with vigorous and sustained action. With purposeful legislation and bipartisan effort. On the COVID-pandemic AND long-simmering issues of police violence and racial justice. We must do both. That is what the Senate, supposedly the world’s greatest deliberative body, was designed to do.

There are four weeks remaining before July 4th. The time for waiting is gone. Leader McConnell, Senate Republicans: commit to putting a police reform bill on the Senate floor for a debate and a vote. Commit to working with us on another emergency relief package. We have waited too long already.

Let me repeat: Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans, we must accomplish two things before July fourth: police reform and COVID relief. We can, and must, do both. Do not stand in the way of a nation yearning for solutions—not for empty rhetoric, not for name calling, not for partisanship.

Before I yield the floor, I want to mention one other issue. Last week, President Trump was responsible for ordering federal officers to force peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square, just across the street from the White House, in clear violation of the their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly. It was deeply offensive and wrong. Even more appalling was the purpose of the order: to clear a path for the president to stage a political stunt at nearby St. John’s Church.

Today, Lafayette Square, a place which has long been a venue where Americans gather to freely exercise their constitutional rights, remains blocked off by heavy fencing. The president has converted this unique public park in the heart of the nation’s capital into something resembling a militarized zone. Lafayette Square should be a symbol of freedom and openness to the world, not a place behind which the president cowers in fear of peaceful protesters crying out for justice.

So moments ago, Speaker Pelosi and I sent a letter to President Trump urging him to reopen Lafayette Square.

President Trump: tear down these walls. Allow the public to gather in front of the White House, for you, and all the world, to hear their voices.

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