Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) are sponsors of the BREATHE Act, which was announced on a Zoom call. It has not yet been introduced. “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.
Pressley was unable to speak on the Zoom call due to technical issues and her office did not immediately issue a statement. Tlaib and Pressley are half of the leftist “Squad” of freshman House members. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota also are Squad members.
The BREATHE Act is unlikely to pass the Democrat-held House, which approved a police reform bill in June in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police.
Many Democratic leaders do not support defunding police and the recently passed bill came under fire from House conservatives for not curbing the power of police unions that shield officers from being fired.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently said it was a “local decision” to reallocate police funds, and President Trump has decried the idea as ludicrous as it picks up steam in cities from Minneapolis to New York.
An overview of the BREATHE Act published online says it will slash federal funds to local police along with federal agencies, and spend the money on social welfare, health care, education and environmental programs.
According to the online description, the bill will “Eliminate federal programs and agencies used to finance and expand the U.S. criminal-legal system, such as the Department of Defense 1033 [surplus equipment] program, the Edward Byrne-Justice Assistance Grant Program, Community Oriented Policing Services, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” It would preserve “non-punitive” elements of each.
The bill has far-reaching demands. It would abolish “the use of electronic monitoring, including ankle monitors” and make “recommendations to dramatically reduce the Department of Defense budget.”
It would offer a 50 percent federal match of local savings from shutting down jails and prisons, and would incentivize states to shut down “gang databases.”
The legislation has two reparations elements. It includes the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), which has 135 Democratic co-sponsors. And it proposes a separate reparations program in honor of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., who died in a 2014 altercation with a police officer.
The overview says the second reparations element would establish “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.”
Michael Brown’s mother, Leslie McSpadden, said she was “most proud about” the reparations section named in honor of her son.
The bill “will provide reparations for survivors of law enforcement violence, and the families of people killed by the police and the carceral system,” she said. “We know that the majority of the cases do not generate significant media exposure or public support. And those families may struggle to pay legal fees, access affordable mental health counseling, or even meet basic needs.”
Gwen Carr, the mother of New Yorker Eric Garner, who was killed in a 2014 encounter with police, endorsed the bill, as did various activist groups.
“We demand that our Freedom Summer be met with civil rights legislation for a 21st-century black movement, and that’s the BREATHE act,” said activist Jessica Byrd of the Movement for Black Lives. “We’ve proven that what seems impossible today is doable tomorrow.” ✪