A measure that would force law enforcement agencies across Florida examine the use of force, including potentially lethal choke holds, headed to the governor's desk Thursday — a victory for African American lawmakers who had pleaded for police reforms in the wake of national protests over the treatment of Black people by police.
But even as Black lawmakers savored a legislative triumph, they openly lamented that it may not go far enough to placate the furor that roiled communities after a Minnesota police officer lodged his knee for more than nine minutes against the neck of a Black man named George Floyd.
“Many people have said we haven’t gone far enough, but this as a step,” said Sen. Randolph Bracy, a Democrat and member of the Black Caucus, who won unanimous passage for the proposal in the Republican-run chamber.
Law enforcement agencies have come under pressure to examine the training and procedures they use in treating people in custody and to focus on de-escalation instead of choke holds and deadly force.
The proposal also aims to keep bad cops from being hired and requires that officers be better trained on when the use of force is appropriate. That training would underscore the duty to intervene when one of their own goes too far.
If signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the measure would require law enforcement agencies to launch independent investigations -- conducted by another law enforcement agency of any incidents leading to a death. It would also require applicants for law enforcement jobs to disclose if they are under investigation or if they left jobs under the cloud of investigation.
“Americans across the country have been calling for police reform. The murder of George Floyd has been a galvanizing incident, bringing much-needed attention to this crisis," Rep. Fentrice Driskell, who sponsored the bill that both chambers advanced to the governor, said after the bill's passage.
As Floyd suffocated under the weight and force of police Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee, other officers stood by and bystanders captured the scene on video. A jury convicted Chauvin of murder.
“This legislation stands in stark contrast to the dangerous anti-protest bill that Governor DeSantis signed into law recently,” she said.
In Florida, emotions remain raw over the signing into the law of a so-called anti-riot bill sought by DeSantis and other Republicans in response to demonstrations spawned last summer by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The anti-riot bill stiffened penalties against protesters who turn violent and created new felonies for organizing or participating in a violent demonstration.
Supporters of the anti-riot measure said it would deter protestors from getting violent and destroying property. But critics worry that counterdemonstrators — and perhaps law enforcement officers themselves — could use it to provoke otherwise peaceful protestors and escalate clashes with police.
Even supporters of the police accountability measure passed Thursday acknowledged it lacked teeth.
“There’s not enough teeth. There’s no enforcement,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson. “Today, we at least lay the foundation.”
More aggressive proposals languished in committees without hearings. One proposal sought to make it a felony for a law enforcement officer not to intervene when another law enforcement officer uses unjustified force that leads to death. It would also punish officers for failing to give medical aid when warranted.
“What we don’t see here today, when we’re talking about police reform, is ending qualified immunity, banning no-knock warrants, banning racial and religious profiling, and creating a national database of police misconduct,” said Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones, adding that those were issues worth legislative action.