By JAMES E. CLYBURN
U.S. House of Representatives
Following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in 2020 at the hands of law enforcement – two in a long line of avoidable tragedies – Democrats reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring that law enforcement truly protect the communities they serve. House Democrats passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to prevent police misconduct by improving law enforcement practices and enhancing accountability.
Regrettably, the bill stalled in the Senate due to Republican opposition. Since taking office in 2021, President Joe Biden has restricted the transfer of military equipment to police departments and directed federal law enforcement agencies to end the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
Now a renewed call for action has emerged as the country mourns the violent death of Tyre Nichols, yet another unarmed Black citizen murdered by police. It has become undeniable that the culture of policing must improve. To reform this violent culture, we must enact public safety reforms that address the lack of accountability and transparency in policing while increasing the standards for those who wear the badge.
Our communities deserve meaningful change in how they are policed, and increased accountability will further that goal. It is unconscionable that a police officer can be fired from their local department for misconduct only to find employment in another department without consequence. Lawyers, doctors, public school teachers, and nearly all other professionals face accountability. Police officers have a sacred responsibility to protect the public – they should certainly not be immune from it.
Increased accountability goes hand in hand with increased transparency. Police department data, information and policies should be made available to the communities they serve. There are more than 18,000 local police departments in the United States. However, there is no national requirement for collecting and sharing use-of-force data. Nor is there a nationwide database or registry that tracks problematic officers, preventing those who have been fired from moving on to another jurisdiction without accountability. The lack of transparency erodes public trust and allows dangerous actors to patrol our streets.
Increasing the professional standards for those who serve involves setting national practices and instituting mandatory trainings to ensure officers have the communication and de-escalation skills they need to better connect with their communities and prevent the deadly escalation of force. Training officers in these areas would improve police conduct and help officers better serve their communities.
In his Jan. 7, State of the Union Address, Biden urged us to “rise to this moment. We can’t turn away. Let’s do what we know in our hearts we need to do. Let’s come together to finish the job on police reform.” It is time for us to enact the reforms necessary to save lives. I call on our colleagues across the aisle to join in this critical effort.
To those who have lost loved ones to police violence, know this: just because you’re not in the headlines doesn’t mean you’re absent from our hearts and minds. South Carolina remembers Walter Scott, who was shot in the back and killed by a North Charleston police officer the morning of April 4, 2015. His brother, Anthony Scott, was my guest for this year’s State of the Union Address. Together, we heard Biden’s call for action, and I can assure you that I will do all within my power to answer that call.
2nd Chronicles 15:7 urges, “Be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”
The road to achieving police reform may be long, but we must not tire. Instead, we must press on in honor of those we have lost and to prevent more Black men and women from falling victim to the same fate.
James E. Clyburn has represented the state’s Sixth Congressional District since 1993 and is the Assistant Democratic Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. He previously served in the post from 2011 to 2018 and served as Majority Whip from 2007 to 2010 and 2019 to 2022, making him the first African American to serve multiple terms as Majority Whip.