Source: Yahoo! News
- President Donald Trump signed an executive order to address police reform, which among other changes, will create a national registry of officers with credible allegations of excessive use-of-force against them.
- The order encourages local departments to send in mental health professionals with armed officers to respond to non-violent crimes.
- It also bans the use of chokeholds, unless an officer’s life is threatened, a caveat that some have said lacks meaningful change.
- But critics say the order does not meet the demands of protesters, who have called for major police reform, including defunding or abolishing police departments.
Trump Executive Order
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday in response to recent and massive calls from protesters to defund the police; however, Trump’s order falls far short of their demands.
The order is shaped by several measures, including setting financial incentives for police departments to meet certain standards on the use of force. If those departments meet those standards, they’ll be given access to federal grant money.
It will create a national registry for tracking officers with credible abuses so that those officers don’t simply go from one department to the next. This will be meant to track officers with multiple instances of excessive use-of-force.
It encourages mental health professionals to be utilized by departments and sent on some nonviolent calls. That provision is largely geared toward calls relating to mental health, homelessness, and addiction. Unlike many protesters’ calls, social workers would not handle those situations on their own; rather, they would be sent along with uniformed police officers.
Trump also said that his order would specifically ban police chokeholds unless an officer’s life was in danger. That provision has been met with criticism, with people like Reverend Al Sharpton, who argued that police officers who use chokeholds already justify them by saying their lives were threatened.
In addition to Sharpton’s criticism, others have noted that Trump’s order does not address larger concerns about systemic racism and racial profiling within law enforcement. In fact, in his address prior to signing the order, Trump dismissed the idea of defunding or abolishing police.
“I strongly oppose the radical and dangerous efforts to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police departments…” he said. “Americans know the truth: Without police, there is chaos. Without law, there is anarchy. And without safety, there is catastrophe.”
Following that comment, Trump praised police, calling the “vast majority” of officers “selfless and courageous public servants.”
“Nobody is more opposed to the small number of bad policers—and you have them, they are very tiny—but nobody wants to get rid of them more than the overwhelming number of really good and great police officers.”
“Nobody is more opposed to the small number of bad police officers, and you have them — they are very tiny; but nobody wants to get rid of them more than the overwhelming number of really good and great police officers.” – President Trump pic.twitter.com/14OGacdLOX— BG (@TheBGates) June 16, 2020
Trump’s order is meant to serve as a precursor for more changes expected to be enacted by Congress, though it is likely Trump and Republicans will butt heads with Democrats on how drastically to enact changes.
Some Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said Trump’s order does not go far enough.
House Democrats have proposed a sweeping reform package that is soon expected to hit the main floor. That bill would ban police chokeholds, ease qualified immunity laws that prevent victims of police violence from suing officers and departments, create a national database of police misconduct, and require police to report data on the use of force.
Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans are encouraging local departments to ban chokeholds rather than outright banning them nationally. The issue of qualified immunity will also likely be a red line in the sand for Republicans.
On Sunday, Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said that ending qualified immunity is “off the table,” adding that “any poison pill in legislation means we get nothing done.”
U.S. Cities Announce Police Reforms
In a local scope, several cities across the country have already begun to enact or propose legislation that would lead to police reform. In many cases, those proposals have directly protesters’ calling for defunding or abolishing police departments.
On June 7, Minneapolis’ city council voted to dismantle the city’s police department and make a new system for public safety. Last Thursday, Louisville’s city council unanimously voted to ban “no-knock” warrants, also requiring city police to wear body cameras when serving warrants.
Monday night in Baltimore, the city council voted to slash next year’s police budget by $22 million dollars. That’s now headed to the mayor’s desk.
The New York City Council has unveiled a list of proposals that would slash $1 billion from the NYPD’s $6 billion dollar budget. Among those proposals include eliminating overtime, removing the School Safety Division from the NYPD’s purview, and reducing uniform headcount
NYPD Disbands Anti-Crime Units
Also in New York City, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea announced Monday that he would be disbanding the NYPD’s anti-crime units.
Those units are made up of plainclothes teams that target violent crime, but notably, they have been involved in some of the city’s most notorious police shootings.
Because of that, Shea said these plainclothes units were part of an outdated policing mode, saying they too often pitted officers against their communities. He also called them a remnant of the city’s stop-and-frisk policies, which had disproportionately affected people of color.
Shea went on to say that because the NYPD now depends more on intelligence gathering and technology to fight crime, it “can move away from brute force.”
Regarding the roughly 600 officers who serve in those units, Shea said they will be immediately reassigned to other duties such as the detective bureau and the department’s neighborhood policing initiative; however, plainclothes units that work in the city’s transit system will remain, as well as plainclothes units in other divisions of the NYPD.
Still, many said the NYPD needed to continue to go further with its changes.
“For this change to have any meaningful impact on how communities experience policing in N.Y.C., these former anti-crime officers will need to change the way they police communities of color, and nothing the commissioner said gives me any confidence that the N.Y.P.D. has a plan to make sure that happens,” Darius Charney, a staff lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said.
Others such as Patrick Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, criticized this move in general, saying:
“Anti-crime’s mission was to protect New Yorkers by proactively preventing crime, especially gun violence. Shooting and murders are both climbing steadily upward, but our city leaders have clearly decided that proactive policing isn’t a priority anymore.”
Albuquerque To Add New Safety Department
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mayor Tim Keller on Monday announced plans to create a new city department to focus on community safety.
That department is designed to be an alternative option to dispatching police or firefighters and paramedics if someone calls 911. It would be made up of social workers and other civilian professionals who would focus on situations involving violence prevention, mental health, and homelessness.
The idea of the new agency is to dispatch the right resources depending on the nature of the call. For example, police officers would be dispatched for a reported violent crime, while social workers would be dispatched to handle non-violent crimes and social needs.
The idea of having mental health professionals respond to calls like this has actually been one of the big rallying points for protesters, with many arguing that police should not be responding to those types of calls.
“It is fascinating that given all the challenges in America over the last 100 years on a number of fronts, when it comes to public safety we still just think there’s two departments—police and fire—in every city,” Keller told the Associated Press. “I think fundamentally this could be a new model for how we look at public safety response in cities across the country.”
Still, Keller’s plan has faced pushback because it’s still unknown exactly where the money is coming from to fund this new department or how much will be needed.
According to The Washington Post, city staff will review budgets for multiple departments, including the police, to find “tens of millions of dollars” to fund the new agency. In fact, the city’s already identified 10% of the city’s $300 million public safety budget, two-thirds of which goes to the police department.
However, Keller has promised that he won’t take money away from core police work or court-mandated reforms already underway.
Keller also said this new department won’t change “any of our approach with respect to addressing crime from all sides, and that also including hiring more officers. We have to do that.”
That’s why some, including a senior policy strategist with the ACLU of New Mexico, have said that this plan isn’t really a mission to defund the police.
“While we appreciate the efforts of the mayor to set up a system where it decreases the likelihood of armed police officials responding to calls, how is it going to be funded and will it have a strong mechanism of accountability?” that strategist, Barron Jones, said.
Three Major California Police Unions Propose Reforms
In California, police unions for the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Jose have unveiled plans for a reform agenda.
Notably, that would include finding racist police officers to “root those individuals out of the law enforcement profession.”
Their plan also calls for the creation of a national database of former police officers who were fired for gross misconduct to keep other agencies from hiring them.
Among other things, those unions are calling for ongoing and frequent training of police officers as well as the creation of a national use-of-force standard.
Within these cities themselves, San Francisco Mayor London Breed has proposed major changes to SFPD’s responsibilities, saying she wants them to stop responding to issues like disputes between neighbors, reports about homeless people, and school discipline interventions.
Breed has also directed the police department to write a policy banning the use of military-grade weapons against unarmed civilians. For example, weapons like tear gas, bayonets, and tanks.
The city has also recently banned choke holds and required officers to intervene if they see other officers engaging in excessive force.
In LA, the city council is actually expected to meet today to discuss a proposal that would slash $100 to $150 million from the LAPD’s budget for next fiscal year.
See what others are saying: (KOAT) (Axios) (The Washington Post)
House Passes Landmark Elections Bill To Expand Voting Rights
- House Democrats passed the For the People Act on Wednesday, a broad voting rights bill that aims to enhance voting rights.
- Among other measures, the legislation would mandate automatic voter registration, expand early and mail-in voting, restore voting rights to former felons, and impose new disclosure requirements for campaign donations and political advertising.
- Democrats say the act is necessary to ensure American’s right to vote, especially as state legislatures have proposed dozens of bills that would roll back voting access and consolidate GOP power.
- Republicans have argued that states, not the federal government, should decide how elections are run and claimed the new bill would lead to fraud that helps liberal candidates.
House Approves For the People Act
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping elections bill Wednesday that aims to significantly expand federal voting rights all over the country.
The bill, called the For the People Act, was proposed by Democrats and passed 220 to 210 almost entirely along party lines. According to reports, if signed into law, it would be the most comprehensive enhancement of federal protections since the 1960s.
The bill contains a wide variety of provisions, but the most significant fall into two broader categories: creating uniform standards for voting and increasing financial transparency.
Regarding the voting rights standards, among other things, the bill would:
- Weaken restrictive state voter ID laws.
- Mandate that state governments use existing records to automatically register voters.
- Guarantee no-excuse mail voting and at least 15 days of early voting for all federal elections.
- Make it harder to purge voter rolls.
- Restore voting rights to former felons.
- End partisan gerrymandering by requiring states to appoint independent commissions to draw congressional districts.
As for what the bill aims to do regarding expanding transparency, it would:
- Impose new disclosure requirements for “dark money” donations used to finance campaigns.
- Create a public financing option for congressional campaigns.
- Require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.
- Require tech platforms to disclose political advertising information.
Arguments For And Against
Democrats have argued that this legislation is essential to protecting and ensuring the right to vote.
The task, they say, is especially important now because Republican-controlled state legislatures have proposed dozens of bills that would roll back voting access as a reaction to former President Donald Trump’s loss and efforts to undermine the election. Many Republicans have used Trump’s false claims about voter fraud to promote their legislation.
Democrats have said these bills are a very transparent attempt by Republicans to consolidate their power because they know they benefit from lower voter turnout, and thus their strategy to win more races is just simply to make voting harder. As a result, Democrats have said the For the People Act is key to combatting these bills
“Everything is at stake,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) said Wednesday. “We must win this race, this fight.”
Republicans, for their part, have argued that states, not the federal government, should make changes to how elections are run, and that the legislation would lead to fraud that benefits Democrats.
“House Democrats do not get to take their razor-thin majority — which voters just shrunk — and use it to steamroll states and localities to try and prevent themselves from losing even more seats next time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in response to the bill’s passage.
However, many have disputed that claim by noting that there is no evidence of widespread fraud that helped Democrats in the last election. By contrast, there are years of evidence that Republicans do benefit from making it harder for people to vote and gerrymandering districts, a fact that McConnell himself seemed to acknowledge by implying that Democrats win more when voting rights are expanded.
Despite Republican objections, recent polls have found that most Americans support having more voter protections. According to a January survey by Data for Progress, 67% of Americans back the For the People Act, including a majority of Republicans.
Still, the legislation is all but doomed in the Senate, which struck down an almost identical version passed by the House in 2019. While Democrats technically have a majority now, the current 50-50 split will require a minimum of 10 Republicans to join forces with all 50 Democrats to avoid the 60-vote legislative filibuster.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)
Texas Governor Will Reopen State “100%” and End Mask Mandate Against Expert Advice
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Tuesday that he was opening the state “100%” and ending the mask mandate starting March 10, against health guidance from federal officials.
- Abbott justified his decision by noting that nearly 6 million Texans have been vaccinated and hospitalizations are down in the state.
- Experts, however, pointed out that less than 2 million of the state’s 29 million residents are fully inoculated, and the CDC currently ranks Texas 48th for vaccination rates out of all 50 states.
- On Tuesday alone, governors in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan as well as local leaders in Chicago and San Francisco also announced plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions.
Abbott Announces Major COVID Policy Changes
Starting March 10, Texas will no longer have a state-wide mask mandate or any coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and facilities, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday.
The move represents the most expansive reopening of any state and makes Texas the largest state to lift its public masking requirement. However, it also goes entirely against the recommendation of the nation’s top experts.
During a press conference Monday, Rochelle Walensky, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned leaders against rolling back restrictions. She cited the fact that the recent nation-wide decline in cases has been stalling and that there has been community spread of the new variants — three of which have been found in Texas, saying:
“With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” she said.
“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress,” she continued.
“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of covid-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”
Conditions in Texas
While cases have been declining in Texas, like most of the country, there is still a lot of data that makes Abbott’s decision especially concerning.
According to The New York Times tracker, Texas still ranks within the top ten states with the highest weekly cases per capita, reporting a weekly average of just over 7,200. Texas also has more hot-spot counties than any other state, according to Business Insider’s analysis of the Times data, which found that 10 counties have reported more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents on average over the last week.
Notably, that number could be skewed because of the massive drop in the testing due to a recent storm that left millions without power and clean water. In fact, experts have warned that Texas could see more COVID cases in the fallout of the storm because people were forced to shelter together.
Abbott, however, did not focus on any of that in his announcement. Instead, he cited other metrics, noting that nearly 5.7 Texans have been vaccinated. He also pointed to declines in hospitalizations.
But both of these justifications are misleading. While it is true that Texas has vaccinated close to 6 million people, according to the CDC, less than 2 million out of 29 million state residents have received both doses needed to be considered fully inoculated.
Beyond that, the CDC’s latest vaccination report ranks Texas 48th in vaccination rates out of all 50 states. Part of that is tied to the lag the state faced because of the storm, but experts still say this just proves that the state needs to be focus on catching up and vaccinating more people instead of rolling back restrictions.
To that point, public health officials have also pushed back against Abbott’s use of declining hospitalization rates as a rationale for his reopening plans. They warned that current hospitalization declines are already slowing and could reverse, and that will only get worse with reopenings.
Other States Reopen
Texas, however, is not the only state that has rolled back restrictions lately, or even just in the past 24 hours.
On Tuesday alone, the governors of Louisiana and Michigan as well as the mayors of Chicago and San Francisco all announced that they would be easing some restrictions on businesses and/or the capacity at which they operate.
Right after Abbott’s announcement, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) made a nearly identical one with an even shorter timeline. In a tweet, he said that starting Wednesday, he would lift all county mask mandates and allow businesses to “operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules.”
The recent easing of restrictions is part of a broader trend — and not just in states that have Republican governors or large conservative populations.
While California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) slammed Abbott’s move as “absolutely reckless,” he has also been widely condemned by leaders in his state for recently rolling back numerous restrictions.
Over the last few weeks, the Democratic governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and New York have all also lifted or otherwise modified regulations to make them less restrictive.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Dallas Morning News) (Business Insider)
Georgia House Passes Sweeping Bill To Restrict Voting Access
- The Georgia House approved an election bill Monday that would impose new restrictions on absentee voting and provisional ballots, cut weekend early voting hours, and limit physical access to voting options, among other measures.
- Republicans proposed the bill after losing the Presidential and Senate races, arguing that it is necessary to restore confidence in the state’s elections and prevent fraud.
- Democrats have condemned the proposed law, noting that Republicans created the distrust by spreading former President Trump’s false claims about election fraud even when top GOP officials in the state said there was no evidence. They also accused them of trying to suppress voters, particularly Black residents.
Georgia House Approves Election Bill
Republicans in the Georgia House passed a sweeping bill Monday that would significantly roll back voting access in the state.
The bill, which was proposed by Republicans who want to impose new restrictions after losing the election, was passed 97-72 along party lines. If signed into law, among other things, the legislation would:
- Require a photo ID for absentee voting.
- Cut the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot.
- Restrict ballot drop box locations to inside early voting locations.
- Shorten Georgia’s runoff election period.
- Impose more strict regulations on provisional ballots.
- Prevent the governments from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to registered voters.
- Ban nonprofit organizations from helping fund elections.
- Almost entirely cut early voting busses that are key to transport people to the polls.
- Prohibit food and drinks from being distributed to voters waiting in long lines.
- Limit early voting hours on weekends.
The last provision is one of the most controversial because it would include limiting the get-out-the-vote campaign known as “souls to the polls,” which is widely used by Black churches. That initiative has been credited with mobilizing Black voters all over the country since the Jim Crow era. The proposed law would limit events to just one Sunday during the early voting period, which would also be cut short.
Arguments For And Against The Bill
The Republicans who have pushed for the bill argue that it is necessary to restore public confidence in Georgia’s elections and help prevent fraud.
But Democrats, voting rights organizations, and protestors who have gathered in front of the capitol to demonstrate against the bill have pointed out that it was Republicans who hurt public trust in the state’s elections by repeating former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud.
Meanwhile, numerous top Republican officials — including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger — have said time and time again that there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections.
Though notably, many Republican state legislators who supported the former president’s false that massive fraud had occurred in their states never contested the results of their own elections, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Democrats have also said that the bill is just the Republican’s latest, transparent attempt to drive down turnout and suppress voters — particularly Black voters who helped Democrat’s wins in the state and take the Senate — rather than actually increase election security.
As far as what happens next, the bill will head to the state Senate, which is also Republican-controlled, and already considering its own elections bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting, among other things.
From there, it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who will likely sympathetic to the cause.
Notably, this legislation the only election bill like this being proposed in state capitols around the country or even in Georgia.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 43 states are considering more than 250 bills that would create impediments to voting. Dozens of those proposals exist in Georgia alone.