June 16, 2020

Harris: Now is the Time to Act. The People are Demanding it.

Full Video of Harris’ Remarks 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Tuesday called for the passage of the Justice in Policing Act during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on police use of force. Last week, Senator Harris and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Justice in Policing Act, comprehensive legislation to address the national police brutality crisis. Harris laid out the key provisions of the legislation, including implementing a national use of force standard and expanding independent investigations into police misconduct. In her remarks, Harris addressed America’s history of systemic racism and called on her colleagues to fulfill their elected duty to take serious action on police reform.

Key Excerpts:

  • When we say that America has a history of systemic racism, we mean that—from slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and policing—our institutions have done violence to Black Americans. And it has caused Black Americans to be treated as less than human across time, place, and institution. 

  • Inequities are also deeply rooted in our education system, in our housing system, in our workforces, in our health care delivery system, and more. And we must fully value Black life, invest in Black communities, and root out inequity wherever it lives.

  • There are thousands of people marching in the streets in 50 states demanding meaningful change. The people are demanding action. They are not marching in the streets for watered down proposals that won’t hold any officers accountable.

  • The only way to meaningfully address police brutality is through comprehensive reforms, including reforms to hold bad officers accountable for misconduct. The Justice in Policing Act is certainly not the end, but the beginning of establishing national standards and accountability for police departments.

  • And passing the Justice in Policing Act would be a step toward realizing that goal because colleagues please understand, please understand tonight, and every night, there are Black parents in America and grandparents who will be on their knees praying that their sons and daughters will be safe. Every night in America. We have to take this on embracing what no doubt are difficult and uncomfortable situations and uncomfortable facts, and an uncomfortable history about our country. But we must take this on, understanding this is a righteous demand that we fix this system and that we act.

A full transcript of Harris’ remarks can be found below:

HARRIS: Thank you Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Feinstein for holding this hearing and for the sincerity for which you have approached the subject. And I thank all of our colleagues for what I do believe to be a meaningful discussion with a real commitment to do the work of this committee, which is to do the work of supporting the concepts of justice in America, which include equal under the law, meaning all people will be treated equally by our laws and we will enforce our laws equally. So I want to thank the entire committee. I want to thank Senator Booker, for the courage that you always have to speak truth and your willingness to tell the personal stories. It takes a lot of courage to do that. And you do that not because it easy but because you know it needs to be done and I appreciate that.

Mr. Chairman, people from every age, race, gender, and religion have been coming together for weeks to protest injustice against Black people in America.

We have a duty as United States Senators to be fully aware of our country’s history of systemic racism, and a responsibility to take serious action toward achieving America’s founding ideal of Equal Justice Under Law.

When we say that America has a history of systemic racism, we mean that—from slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and policing—our institutions have done violence to Black Americans. And it has caused Black Americans to be treated as less than human across time, place, and institution. 

Let’s be clear about what it would mean then to transform our society and eliminate systemic racism.

When we truly achieve that ideal, we won’t have an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, die from a police officer kneeling on his neck for almost, 8 minutes and 48 seconds, actually exactly, 8 minutes and 48 seconds.

When we achieve that ideal, it won’t mean that we’ll have a woman, Breonna Taylor, shot and killed by police officers while she’s asleep in her own bed.

We won’t have an unarmed Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, lynched while going for a run in his own neighborhood.

And as George Floyd’s brother, Philonise, said last week in his powerful testimony before the House Judiciary Committee — when we eliminate systemic racism, it will be clear to everyone that the life of a Black man is worth more than an allegedly counterfeit $20 bill.

Mr. Chairman, there is a movement being led by people who might appear from the outside to have little in common, who are marching together to demand an end to the Black blood that is staining the sidewalks of our country. They are marching together to move us closer and closer at least to justice. And that gives me hope. It truly gives me hope. When I look at who is out there and the commonality of purpose and the unity that they are exhibiting.

But we have to recognize that to deal with systemic inequity in our system, it’s not just a policing issue.

Inequities are also deeply rooted in our education system, in our housing system, in our workforces, in our health care delivery system, and more. And we must fully value Black life, invest in Black communities, and root out inequity wherever it lives.

That means that, across the nation, we must re-imagine what public safety looks like. The status quo thinking that more police creates more safety is wrong. It’s wrong. And it has motivated too much of municipal budgets and the thinking of policy makers and has distracted them from what truly will be the smartest use of resources to achieve safety in communities, which is too invest in the health of those communities. And healthy communities without any doubt are safe communities.

So we must ask our mayors and local leaders to re-examine their priorities and their budgets. We must ask why so much money is being spent to militarize the police while two-thirds of public school teachers in America today are coming out of their own back pockets to help pay for school supplies in our public schools.

It’s time for us to realize — this is not just a moment, but a movement. This committee and our entire federal government have a role to play in holding the police accountable when they break the rules and break the law. And we must be on the right side of history as a committee.

We can start to meet the demands of this movement by passing the Justice in Policing Act. And here are a few specific ways. 

First, we need a national use of standard. A use of force standard. Today, most officers around the country, the standard is to ask if they use excessive force, the standard is to ask was that use of force “reasonable.” A much more fair and just question to ask is was that use of force “necessary.” We need a national use of force standard. 

Second, as a former prosecutor, I know that we also need independent investigations into police misconduct are imperative.

No matter how well intentioned a District Attorney or a State’s Attorney, when called upon to investigate the misconduct of a police officer that works in the department they closely work with every day, there will at the very least be an appearance of conflict, if not actual conflict. To do justice in our country is to actually do justice and to have the confidence of the public that there is an appearance of justice. These values are equal.  

Third, we need truth and transparency. Cities and states have to report police use of force incidents to the federal government.

When I was Attorney General of California, I created an open data initiative we named OpenJustice – a first-of-its-kind open data initiative to give the people access to information about arrests, bookings, and deaths in custody. The public has a right to know what has happened and what is happening in their communities. And the public can then use data to help hold us accountable. Instead of requiring that they are always presenting antidotal information, fueled by personal experiences when the data is available but we as government possess it. Is it not the right and equitable thing to do, to share that data that we as government possess, with the public so they can grade and judge us appropriately.

And lastly, we need to expand pattern and practice investigations into police departments and give state attorneys general the authority to bring these investigations.

As Attorney General of California, I activated civil pattern and practice investigations into police departments.

And recall, as Senator Feinstein mentioned, Congress gave the Department of Justice authority to conduct pattern and practice investigations in the aftermath of Rodney King’s killing by police officers. Or beating, excuse me, by police officers. This power is designed to root out systemic problems in a police departments.   

And Under the Trump administration, sadly pattern and practice investigations have slowed virtually to a stop. They need to start these investigations again, with an additional tool of subpoena power.

And on this point—Attorney General Barr should be here today.

He should be here to answer for his shameful record investigating civil rights violations in police departments in America. During the Trump administration, the United States Department of Justice has confirmed only one pattern and practice investigation, compared to the 25 brought during the Obama administration. 

He should be here to answer for reportedly calling for the forcible removal of peaceful demonstrators who were gathered in front of the White House to protest the murder of George Floyd. And he should be here to answer for his lack of leadership at this critical moment in our nation’s history.

Today, President Trump issued an executive order calling for accreditation standards for police departments, data sharing on police officers who use excessive force, and federal funding to help police respond to the homeless and mentally ill. Let me be clear – this is not enough. It does not meet this moment. This is not enough.

There are thousands of people marching in the streets in 50 states demanding meaningful change. The people are demanding action. They are not marching in the streets for watered down proposals that won’t hold any officers accountable.

And there is nothing about what the president announced today that will hold police officers who break the rules and break the law accountable.

The only way to meaningfully address police brutality is through comprehensive reforms, including reforms to hold bad officers accountable for misconduct. The Justice in Policing Act is certainly not the end, but the beginning of establishing national standards and accountability for police departments.

And at a certain point, we’ve seen enough. We’ve had enough commissions. We have studied these issues. We have convened opinion leaders. We have talked about these in private conversations and in public conversations. Now is time to act. The people are demanding it. And they have a right to know their government, a representative government of the people will respond to their needs for us as a country to live up to our ideals.

So in closing I’ll just say that you know, we know that we have these words across the street at the United States Supreme Court, etched into that beautiful marble building, Equal Justice Under Law. But we have to show American what it means, and that it truly means equal justice for all. We have to show America that.

And passing the Justice in Policing Act would be a step toward realizing that goal because colleagues please understand, please understand tonight, and every night, there are Black parents in America and grandparents who will be on their knees praying that their sons and daughters will be safe. Every night in America. We have to take this on embracing what no doubt are difficult and uncomfortable situations and uncomfortable facts, and an uncomfortable history about our country. But we must take this on, understanding this is a righteous demand that we fix this system and that we act. I thank you my colleagues. 

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