How We’re Fighting for Police Reform and Systemic Change in America

The outpourings of grief and generational pain we’re seeing today are a response not only to unjust policing of Black people — they are a cry for public officials to take action and achieve a new paradigm for policing.

This week, Congress took a step forward. Both chambers — led by Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and Representatives Karen Bass and Jerry Nadler — introduced the Justice in Policing Act, which takes on critical issues such as redefining police misconduct, establishing a national use of force standard, increasing the U.S. Department of Justice’s authority to prosecute misconduct by law enforcement officers, and more.

On Wednesday, our president and CEO Vanita Gupta testified for seven hours before the House Judiciary Committee on the need for transformative policing policies that promote accountability, reimagine public safety, and respect the dignity of all people.

As she said in her opening statement, we are now at a turning point. And while much of the accountability must happen at the state and local levels, success will require the leadership of the federal government, including Congress.

That’s why we — along with more than 400 civil rights organizations — sent a letter to Congress last week offering critical proposals that would move us forward on the path to real change. The recommendations include the following:

  1. Create a national “necessary” standard on use of force
  2. Prohibit racial profiling; including robust data collection
  3. Ban the use of chokeholds and other restraint maneuvers
  4. End militarization
  5. Prohibit the use of no-knock warrants
  6. Strengthen federal accountability systems — and increase DOJ authority to prosecute officers under color of law
  7. Create a national police misconduct registry, and
  8. End qualified immunity

As a result of our advocacy, the Justice in Policing Act reflects much of this accountability framework. According to The New York Times:

 “A letter with some 400 signatures from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights laid out eight demands — all of them measures to hold officers accountable or ban certain uses of force. Later, they insisted that no new funds be sent to departments, according to senior aides who helped draft the bill, a condition that Democrats embraced. Even so, they held off on offering public support for the bill. Ms. Bass worked the phones until they agreed to do so at the 11th hour.”

As the bill advances toward passage, we will continue to work to strengthen it and ensure that real change is achieved. But policing reform alone will not solve the crisis we are in today. We need to envision a new paradigm for public safety that respects the human rights of all people. That means not just changing policing practices and culture, but ultimately shrinking the footprint of the criminal legal system and investing in social systems and positive supports in Black communities and other communities of color.

There is no returning to normal — we have to create a new way forward. And we look forward to working with members of Congress until the day these reforms are signed into law.

As Vanita said in closing her testimony:

“George Floyd’s death has impacted the world. And now it is on us to change it.”

Take action:

Call your members of Congress now and tell them to make it clear that police brutality and violence have NO place in America. These stolen lives are part of a long cycle of violence with impunity toward Black people — and must stop. Tell them you won’t stay silent, because the killings underscore how much systemic racism endures in our nation. Demand transformative change now.

Call Congress now ›

Resources from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund:

The New Era of Public Safety initiative offers groundbreaking tools to increase trust, fairness, justice, and mutual respect between police departments and the communities they serve. The report and toolkit offer community-centered policy solutions to equip communities and police departments with best practices and recommendations for adopting 21st century policing models, including tools for advocacy.

Learn More: Creating a New Era of Public Safety ›

Read the Report ›

Read the Toolkit ›

The Leadership Conference, in partnership with Civil Rights Corps, released Vision for Justice 2020 and Beyond: A New Paradigm for Public Safety, a comprehensive platform that provides actionable policies aimed at transforming our criminal legal system and changing the way we approach public safety in this country.

Read the Platform ›

The Leadership Conference, joined by hundreds of organizations, recently sent letters to the Department of Justice urging investigations into the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Sean Reed, including pattern or practice investigations into local police departments for systemic constitutional abuses.

Read our letter following the death of George Floyd ›

Read our letter following the death of Breonna Taylor ›

Read our letter following the death of Ahmaud Arbery ›

Read our letter following the death of Sean Reed ›