US House passes police reform bill after George Floyd death

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks ahead of the House vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

The lower house of the US Congress approved a sweeping police reform bill following the death of George Floyd.

The Democrat-controlled US House of Representative passed the bill broadly along party lines, but the bill stands little chance of becoming law as it required a majority in the Republican-controlled upper house, known as the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gathered with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on the Capitol steps, challenging opponents not to allow the deaths of black Americans to have been in vain or the outpouring of public support for changes to go unmatched.

Ms Pelosi said: “Exactly one month ago, George Floyd spoke his final words — ‘I can’t breathe’ — and changed the course of history.”

She said the Senate faces a choice “to honour George Floyd’s life or to do nothing”.

Ahead of the vote on Thursday, President Trump's administration said he would veto the bill and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would not pass.

Republicans are proposing their own bill, and Mr Trump said of the Democratic proposal: “If nothing happens with it, it’s one of those things. We have different philosophies.”

In the stalemate over the policing overhaul, the parties are settled into their political zones, almost ensuring no legislation will become law.

Debbie Ho wears a facemask saying ‘I Can’t Breathe’ ahead of the House vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 Credit: Carolyn Caster/AP

While there may be shared outrage over Mr Floyd’s death, politicians remain far apart on the broader debate over racial bias in policing and other institutions.

Both Democrat and Republican bills share common elements that could be grounds for a compromise.

Central to both would be the creation of a national database of use-of-force incidents, which is viewed as a way to provide transparency on officers’ records if they transfer from one agency to another.

There have been widespread protests following the death of George Floyd Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The bills would restrict police chokeholds and set up new training procedures, including beefing up the use of body cameras.

The Democratic bill goes much further, mandating many of those changes, while also revising the federal statute for police misconduct and holding officers personally liable for damages in lawsuits.

It also would halt the practice of sending military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.

Neither bill goes as far as some activists want with calls to defund the police and shift resources to other community services.