Washington, DC – Progressive U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) on Tuesday unveiled legislation to defund police and pay reparations to African Americans and people harmed by police brutality.
“We can start to envision through this bill a new version for public safety — a new vision for public safety, one that protects and affirms black lives,” Tlaib said via Zoom call from Michigan, according to the New York Post.
The proposed legislation – the BREATHE Act – would eliminate the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and ban the use of surveillance technology, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Banned technology would include ankle monitors and drones currently used for monitoring by law enforcement.
An overview of the proposed bill showed that it would eliminate federal funding for local police departments and federal agencies, the New York Post reported.
Instead, the money would be allocated to social welfare, health care, education and environmental programs.
The bill also aimed to dramatically reduce spending the U.S. Department of Defense and eliminate the Department of Defense 1033 program that funnels excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
It would further establish the Neighborhood Demilitarization Program to collect and destroy all military-grade equipment, armored vehicles, and weapons that have been distributed to local, state, and federal police.
The BREATHE Act would incentivize states to shut down “gang databases” and give a 50 percent federal match of local savings from shutting down jails and prisons, according to The New York Post.
It would abolish life sentences, erase mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and set up a “time bound plan” for shutting down all federal prisons and immigration detention centers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The proposed legislation has two completely separate reparations elements.
One part is legislation that was already proposed by U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) called the “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” the New York Post reported.
Lee’s legislation currently has 135 Democratic co-sponsors.
The other part of the reparations included a separate program named for Michael Brown, a robbery suspect killed after beating a police officer and trying to take his gun, and called for reparations for numerous demographic groups, the New York Post reported.
The Michael Brown element would set up “commissions that design reparations for mass criminalization — including the War on Drugs, the criminalization of prostitution, and police violence; border violence; and the systemic violation of the U.S. Government’s treaty obligations to Tribal nations.”
Brown’s mother, Leslie McSpadden said she was “most proud about” the fact the reparations section would honor the memory of her son, the New York Post reported.
The mother of Eric Garner, whose death led to the “I Can’t Breathe” rally cry for which the legislation is named, endorsed the bill along with a host of activist groups.
The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 Black Lives Matter organizations, led the drafting of the proposed legislation, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“We demand that our Freedom Summer be met with civil rights legislation for a 21st-century black movement, and that’s the BREATHE Act,” Jessica Byrd, of the Movement for Black Lives, said. “We’ve proven that what seems impossible today is doable tomorrow.”
The coalition will relaunch its Vision for Black Lives 2020 at the Black National Convention in August of 2020, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants and there has been 400 years of work that Black people have done to try to get us closer to freedom,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said. “This moment is a watershed moment. I think this moment calls for structural change and transformative change in ways that we haven’t seen in a very long time. We see this opportunity to push for the BREATHE Act as a part of what we’re calling the modern-day civil rights act.”
“We are a generation that wants to make sure that the needs of all Black people are met,” Cullors said. “We believe the BREATHE Act is that legislation. It’s an act that is pushing us to look at the future of this country, an act that is mandating and demanding a new future and policies that are courageous and visionary.”