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RELEASE: REPS. KHANNA, CLAY ANNOUNCE LANDMARK POLICE BRUTALITY BILL TO RAISE STANDARDS FOR THE USE OF FORCE

August 9, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C.  –  Today, as the nation marks the fifth anniversary of the tragic death of Mike Brown and the beginning of the historic Ferguson uprising, Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D) Missouri, Rep. Ro Khanna (D) California announced the PEACE Act, which would change the federal standard for the use of force by federal officers to require that force be used only when necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury.

The PEACE Act would change the use of force to be a last resort, rather than a first resort, and require officers to employ de-escalation techniques.

The groundbreaking use of force reform legislation would also require states who wish to continue receiving public safety funding from the U.S. Department of Justice to enact similar legislation to require a comparable standard for local police officers. The federal effort builds on California’s historic legislation (AB 392, "Act to Save Lives") enshrining the “necessity” standard.

“It is past time to end a legal standard for use of force that permits Americans to be killed as a first resort – rather than only when absolutely necessary – and with little accountability,” said Rep. Ro Khanna. “This disproportionately impacts African Americans, who make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for 25 percent of those Americans tragically shot and killed by police each year.  Immediately resorting to lethal force rather than using proven de-escalation tactics increases risks for both citizens and police officers. We have to do more than change the rhetoric: we have to change the laws.”

“Our new legislation would prohibit the use of deadly force by federal law enforcement unless no other reasonable alternative exists,” said Rep. Lacy Clay. “The PEACE Act would also incentivize states to adopt their own legislation to establish this same higher standard of conduct for local police if they wish to continue receiving public safety funding from the US Department of Justice Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act.  If states fail to enact legislation that mirrors our new federal standard requiring law enforcement to use force as an absolute last resort…they would no longer be eligible to receive that funding.”  

The excessive use of force by local police was at the heart of the Ferguson uprising and remains an urgent issue across the country. Five years after Ferguson, African Americans are still disproportionately affected as they make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for 25 percent of people fatally shot by police. In fact, Black men aged 15 to 34 are approximately ten times more likely to be killed by police than other Americans.  Overall, according to a Washington Post study of police shootings, African Americans of all ages are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than the general population.  The PEACE Act can save lives.

This legislation addresses one of the root causes of the problem – the lack of any legal duty for police officers to use force as a last resort. The current legal standard gives nearly unfettered discretion to police over their use of force, as long as they claim to perceive a threat, even if there were other available options to de-escalate the situation.

While the racial disparity is the most alarming aspect of the problem, White Americans are also affected by excessive use of force, comprising nearly 50 percent of unarmed people killed by police. And there continues to be a glaring lack of accountability. Fully, 99 percent of the officers involved in the 1,165 police-involved killings in 2018 were not charged with a crime.

Evidence indicates that a “necessity” standard for use of force yields results for citizens and police officers alike. After the Seattle Police Department was required by President Obama’s Justice Department to change its use of force standard to one of necessity in 2012, a comprehensive report by the monitoring team found that the rate of injuries to officers remained flat or went down slightly, demonstrating that “decreased use of force has not placed officers at any higher risk or made officers less able or willing to use force to defend themselves from threats or harm.” Meanwhile, there was a net decrease of 743 incidents -- a 60 percent drop -- in the use of moderate and high-level use of force.

“The PEACE Act makes a clear, simple, and yet in too many cases life-saving change,” said Hilary O. Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “By changing the standard for the acceptable use of force, we will be requiring law enforcement agents to try other options rather than immediately resorting to the reactionary use of lethal force.  Furthermore, by incentivizing states and localities to require policies that emphasize non-lethal tactics, the PEACE Act will be spreading its effective ability to enforce the law without the needless taking of lives.  Upon enactment, the PEACE Act will help rebuild the trust and perception of integrity between diverse communities and the law enforcement officers whose crucial job it is to protect and serve them.  This trust and the presence of integrity is essential.”

"Law enforcement should only use force as a last resort, not as a first option. We need to respect human life and prohibit police use of force that is not necessary," said Kanya Bennett, ACLU senior legislative counsel. “We are proud to endorse the PEACE Act, which will help ensure law enforcement uses their enormous power judiciously and only when necessary. Too many Black and brown lives have been lost. We need change now.”

“Your zip code should not determine whether you survive a potentially lethal encounter with police,” said Kristina Roth, senior program officer for criminal justice at Amnesty International USA. “Already, the lack of an adequate national standard for the use of lethal force has resulted in the killings of about 1,000 people every year, with communities of color overrepresented. Police officers must serve the community, not create fear among the people they are meant to protect. Whether they are local or federal law enforcement, police should be required to reserve force as a last resort after exhausting other options. Officers must also be held to account if they acted negligently. The PEACE Act has the potential to create a national standard and advance equality under the law.”

"The PEACE Act is an absolutely critical step to stop the epidemic of police violence that continues to plague working class communities and communities of color in this country,” said William Armaline, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the San Jose University Human Rights Institute. “In changing the deadly force standard from "reasonable" to "necessary" for federal agents and by incentivizing the development of parallel bills like California's AB 392 "Act to Save Lives" at the state and municipal level, the PEACE Act helps to bring the U.S. into compliance with international law and standards on the use of deadly force for the first time ever.  International law demands that use of force standards must be based in fundamental Human Rights protections, namely the right to due process, freedom from discrimination, and the preservation of life.

"Too many lives--especially black women, men and youth--have been lost at the hands of police we fail to hold accountable for their deadly actions,” said Ginna Green, Chief Strategy Officer of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action. “The PEACE Act is a crucial, common-sense solution to help prevent the use of excessive force by police and protect the people and communities most at-risk of this behavior. Our Jewish community comes in all races and backgrounds, and whether or not police violence is a daily concern, we know that we are not safe or free while others are not safe and free. Inaction is not an option in the face of injustice, and Congress must act swiftly and pass this legislation."  

The bill is endorsed by: National Action Network (NAN), NAACP, ACLU, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP – Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), Amnesty International, Drug Policy Alliance, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action.

Original Cosponsors are: Rep. Lacy Clay (MO-1), Rep. Bobby Rush (IL-1), Rep. Bennie Thompson (MS-2), Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8), Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY-5), Rep. Yvette Clarke (NY-19), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (NJ-10), Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO-5), Rep. G.K. Butterfield (NC-1), Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13), Rep. Alcee Hastings (FL-20), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (IL-4), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Rep. Andre Carson (IN-7), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-2), Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-7).

Read the bill online here.

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About the Office

Congressman Khanna represents the 17th District of California, which covers communities in Silicon Valley. Visit his website at khanna.house.gov. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @RepRoKhanna.