Gottheimer’s police brutality protection legislation stalls Democratic package

Progressive objections to legislation sponsored by corporate Democrat Rep. Josh Gottheimer forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to delay a debate over four policing and public safety bills that were expected to come to the floor in Congress.

Opposition from progressive Democrats known as the Squad over the lack of police accountability measures in Gottheimer’s legislation, one of the four bills up for consideration, threatens to hinder the entire package.

The House on Thursday was scheduled to consider a package of four measures bolstering law enforcement and community safety bills after establishment and progressive Democrats struck a deal following months of negotiations to consider all four bills under a single rule, then vote on each one separately.

Shortly before the rule vote on Thursday, a spokesperson for Rep. Cori Bush said the congresswoman was opposed to the bill sponsored by Gottheimer and called for the other three measures to be considered separately.

The chamber must approve the rule before debating and holding final votes on each piece of legislation. Republicans traditionally vote against rules even if they support the legislation.

The Gottheimer bill, which has 28 Republican co-sponsors, would allocate $50 million annually over a five-year period in federal grants to local law enforcement agencies that have fewer than 125 officers.

Gottheimer wants to provide bonuses of up to $10,000 for existing officers and tuition for those pursuing graduate degrees in public health, social work, and mental health, even though New Jersey police have some of the highest salaries in the nation.

The Gottheimer bill does not have any bold or comprehensive measures to hold police accountable that are included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would change the culture of law enforcement, empower our communities, and build trust between law enforcement and our communities by addressing systemic racism and bias to help save lives.

This Justice in Policing legislation makes it easier for the federal government to successfully prosecute police misconduct cases, end racial or religious profiling, and eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement.

The Justice in Policing legislation also bans the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants—which took the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Eric Garner—at the federal level and encourages states to do the same.

By contrast, the Gottheimer bill allows no meaningful accountability for police brutality and it throws more money at a class of employees who are already among the highest paid public servants.

A two-year investigation by a team of reporters who sifted through payroll records for every dollar earned by 24,000 law enforcement officers in New Jersey’s 463 local police departments, plus state police, found that nearly 1,500 local cops and 115 state troopers actually made more than $190,000.

The grant program, administered by the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), would be used for the training of officers.

The Gottheimer legislation is also endorsed by the National Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations, National Sheriffs’ Association, National Troopers Coalition, New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association, and New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association.

“Even the most barebones accountability measures like those included in the House-passed Justice in Policing Act were not incorporated into the Rep. Gottheimer bill, which would add nearly a quarter billion dollars in police funding over the next 5 years without addressing the crisis of police brutality — and this despite the strong and continued urging from civil rights and racial justice advocacy leaders to chart a more humane path,” Bush’s spokesperson wrote in a statement.

“As such, Congresswoman Bush maintains her opposition to that bill and supports decoupling its consideration from the other important public safety measures that the House should take up immediately,” the spokesperson added.

It is unclear which other progressive Democrats are opposed to the Gottheimer legislation and threatening to tank the slate of bills if the rule goes to the floor for a vote. Democrats currently hold a small 221-212 majority in the House, which means the caucus can only afford to lose four members.

The legislation has divided the Squad. On Wednesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a member of the progressive group, endorsed the package along with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Earlier in the week, Rep. Jamaal Bowman — also a member of the Squad — said he still harbored deep concerns about the strength of the accountability measures, particularly in the Gottheimer bill. He wants to see some effort to tackle no-knock warrants and choke holds while creating a national database of abusive officers.

“Those conversations have to be brought to the table as we talk about policing in this country,” Bowman said, noting that the Gottheimer bill is the only one of the four bills not to have been approved at the committee level. 

“Why are we pushing this bill forward without a committee markup? Without the accountability pieces?” Bowman asked. “And why are we lumping it in with the other three, that are actually true public safety bills?”

When announcing a deal on Wednesday, key Democratic lawmakers noted that some of their colleagues may vote against the bills.

“Every member of the [Congressional Black Caucus] may not weigh in on it or vote for it — and I’m OK with that,” Rep. Joyce Beatty, the chairwoman of the Black Caucus, told reporters. “But we wanted to make sure we could say we’re doing the best we can at this time.”

Rep. Katie Porter, the sponsor of one of the bills under consideration, sounded a similar note in regards to her progressive colleagues, telling reporters that while some may defect, “a bulk” of the caucus was behind the deal.

Across the Garden State, the average New Jersey officer made $123,239, of which 20 percent came through overtime and off-duty work.

But critics, like social justice advocates, say too much money is spent on policing, peeling resources from other pressing public needs.

In 2019, 104 New Jersey police officers were paid more than $250,000, including 13 of them who made more than $300,000.

%d bloggers like this: