View a PDF of this letter here. 

June 1, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, Majority Leader McConnell, and Minority Leader Schumer:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (The Leadership Conference), a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 220 national organizations to promote and protect civil and human rights in the United States and the 451 undersigned organizations, we urge you to take swift and decisive legislative action in response to ongoing fatal police killings and other violence against Black people across our country. Federal statutory reforms are urgently needed on a range of policing issues, including use of force, police accountability, racial profiling, militarization, data collection, and training. We also respectfully request a meeting with House and Senate Leadership within the week to discuss legislative responses to ongoing police killings against Black people.

Abusive police practices coupled with devastating state-sanctioned violence have exacted systemic brutality and fatality upon Black people since our nation’s founding. The current protests across our country are not new. They are in response to a long cycle of lawlessness against Black people, from our founding to 1968, the year the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. This cycle includes deadly incidents spanning from Los Angeles in 1992 to Ferguson in 2014. [1]  Police have shot and killed more than 1,000 people in the United States over the past year.[2] Moreover, Black people are disproportionately more likely than white people to be killed by police. For too long, the cycle of police brutality and racism has been met with cosmetic tinkering instead of substantive structural change. The current public protests in our cities are a response not only to unjust policing of Black people but are a cry for action to public officials for structural change, writ large.

In recent weeks, the chronic structural issue of police killings against Black people across our country has, again, escalated to a boiling point. The February 23, 2020, death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed by a former police officer in a Brunswick, Georgia suburb, sparked public outrage and scrutiny. The more recent police killings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky on March 13, 2020, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed in Indianapolis, Indiana on May 6, 2020, George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020, and Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL on May 27, 2020 have generated national attention and protest. This spate of cases highlights entrenched, systemic dysfunction that has long plagued police departments and our criminal legal system.[3] Congress must rectify these structural wrongs through legislation before another Black life is needlessly lost.

The recent case of Ahmaud Arbery brings back harrowing memories of Trayvon Martin’s February 26, 2012 death. Like Mr. Martin, Mr. Arbery was young, Black, and unarmed when he was stalked and killed by vigilante actors, presumably based on the color of his skin. Mr. Arbery was fatally shot by a former police officer with impunity. It should not have taken three months and public pressure for the shooter to be arrested and charged. Pervasive lack of accountability by police departments persists in far too many agencies and destroys police legitimacy, and must be addressed by Congress.[4]

The case of Breonna Taylor’s death on March 13 demonstrates the unresolved problem of militarized policing, which we also saw in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of Michael Brown in 2014. Ms. Taylor was fatally shot eight times by police in her Louisville home, after a heavy-handed, military-style raid.[5] Police executed a no-knock warrant even though the suspect the police were looking for was already detained and did not live where Ms. Taylor was killed. This case demonstrates the need for police agencies to prohibit the use of no-knock warrants and institute mandatory de-escalation training for all officers. This case also indicates the need for Congress to end the transfer of military weapons to state and local police agencies through the Department of Defense 1033 program and other such programs.

Despite the passage of more than two months to investigate the circumstances surrounding the police killing of Ms. Taylor, none of the officers involved in her death have been arrested or charged. This situation demonstrates the need for federal prosecutors to act when state law enforcement agencies do not. This also demonstrates the need to update the federal criminal civil rights statute – Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law, 18 U.S.C. §242 – so prosecutors can bring criminal charges against officers who violate individuals’ civil rights.

George Floyd’s death reopens the wounds that have barely healed after the death of Eric Garner, who was killed after an NYPD officer placed him in an illegal chokehold in July 2014.[6] Mr. Floyd, like Mr. Garner, was killed at the hands of a police officer as other officers sat idly and refused to intervene.  In Mr. Floyd’s case, a Minneapolis police officer forced a handcuffed Mr. Floyd into a prone position and pinned him to the ground by driving his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes until Mr. Floyd stopped breathing. Mr. Floyd, to no avail, repeatedly told the officer that he could not breathe.

The case of Tony McDade, a black trans man, highlights the violence that many black trans, queer and gender non-conforming people face daily. In addition, the lack of coverage of his killing demonstrates a harmful disparity of awareness around violence against this community.[7]

It is past time for Congress to address the use of maneuvers that restrict the flow of oxygen or blood to the brain such as chokeholds, knee-to neck, and similar restraints. These and other such techniques make the death or injuries resulting therefrom a violation of 18 U.S.C. §242. Accordingly, we urge members of Congress to pass legislation that would prohibit the use of such maneuvers.

Additionally, too often police killings involve officers with a history of misconduct complaints.  For example, last week, the officer who killed Mr. Floyd allegedly had 18 misconduct complaints lodged against him with two resulting in discipline.[8] The officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio reportedly was deemed emotionally unstable and unfit for duty in a previous job:[9]  he was ultimately fired from the Cleveland Police Department for lying on his job application.[10]  The same officer applied for and was hired to serve in another police department in the state; and he resigned from that job days later.

Police executives need information about the misconduct histories of officers before hiring them, which underscores the need for a national public registry of law enforcement officers that compiles the names of officers who have been terminated or decertified, involved in misconduct, or who have complaints lodged against them.  This publicly available database would permit law enforcement executives’ access to necessary data to inform hiring decisions and would allow the public to know the employment histories of the officers who work in their communities.

These recent police killings of residents across the country are part of a longer history of fatal police killings against Black people in America and require Congressional action immediately. Sadly, there is no reliable national accounting of victims of police use of force, a reality that former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey acknowledged in 2015. Congress must ensure compliance with the Death in Custody Reporting Act,[11] which it enacted six years ago, as well as ensure more robust data collection on police-community encounters, including use of force, as it prohibits racial profiling.

We call on Congress to adopt the following legislative measures to ensure that police officers live up to their oath to protect and serve:

  1. Require a federal standard that use of force be reserved for only when necessary as a last resort after exhausting reasonable options, and incentivize states through federal funding mechanisms to implement this standard; require the use of de-escalation techniques, and the duty to intervene; ban the use of force as a punitive measure or means of retaliation against individuals who only verbally confront officers, or against individuals who pose a danger only to themselves; and require all officers to accurately report all uses of force;
  2. Prohibit all maneuvers that restrict the flow of blood or oxygen to the brain, including neck holds, chokeholds, and similar excessive force, deeming the use of such force a federal civil rights violation;
  3. Prohibit racial profiling, and require robust data collection on police-community encounters and law enforcement activities. Data should capture all demographic categories and be disaggregated;
  4. Eliminate federal programs that provide military equipment to law enforcement;
  5. Prohibit the use of no-knock warrants, especially for drug searches;
  6. Change the 18 U.S.C. Sec. 242 mens rea requirement from willfulness to recklessness, permitting prosecutors to successfully hold law enforcement accountable for the deprivation of civil rights and civil liberties;
  7. Develop a national public database that would cover all police agencies in the United States and its territories, similar to the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training’s National Decertification Index,[12] which would compile the names of officers who have had their licenses revoked due to misconduct, including but not limited to domestic violence, sexual violence, assault and harassment, criminal offense against minors, excessive use of force, violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242; perjury, falsifying a police report or planting and destroying evidence, and deadly physical assault; as well as terminations and complaints against the officers; and
  8. End the qualified immunity doctrine which prevents police from being held legally accountable when they break the law. Qualified immunity, a defense that shields officials from being sued, has been interpreted by courts so broadly that it allows officers to engage in unconstitutional acts with impunity.

Now is the time for Congress to pass meaningful police reform legislation. While we appreciate hearings and resolutions, we need comprehensive measures enacted. We need Congress to advance meaningful legislation to protect Black communities from the systemic perils of over policing, police brutality, misconduct, and harassment, and end the impunity with which officers operate in taking the lives of Black people. It is your moral and ethical duty to ensure Black people and communities are free from the harm and threats from law enforcement and to curtail state sanctioned police violence and militarized police responses. We welcome the opportunity for Members of Congress and the principals of our organizations to meet and confirm next steps to advance federal legislation that will save the lives of countless Black people.

Thank you for your consideration. To follow-up on this request or raise any questions, please contact Sakira Cook of The Leadership Conference at; Kanya Bennett of the ACLU at; Monique Dixon of NAACP LDF at; Kristina Roth of Amnesty International USA at; or Ebonie Riley of National Action Network at; or Christopher Scott of The Open Society Policy Center at


The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights


A Better Balance

A Little Piece of Light



African American Health Alliance

African American Policy Forum

Agudas Achim Congregation

Alabama Institute for Social Justice

Alianza Nacional de Campesinas

All Our Kin

All Voting is Local, Georgia

Alliance for Excellent Education

Alliance of Baptists

Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

Alternate Roots

America’s Voice

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

American Atheists

American Civil Liberties Union

American Counseling Association

American Federation of Teachers

American Humanist Association

American Library Association

American Music Therapy Association

American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN)

American Muslim Health Professionals

American Muslims for Palestine

American School Counselor Association

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)

Amistad Law Project

Amnesty International USA

Andrew Goodman Foundation

Arab American Institute (AAI)


Asian American Advocacy Fund

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Asian Counseling and Referral Service

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO

Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence

Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council

Asian Real Estate Association of America

Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO)

Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE)

Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)

Augustus F. Hawkins Foundation

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Beauty after the Bars

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Black and Pink

Black Law Enforcement of America


Brain Injury Association of America

Bread for the World

Brennan Center for Justice

BUILD Initiative

California Alternative Payment Program Association (CAPPA)

California Partnership to End Domestic Violence

Cameroon American Council

Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth

Campaign Zero

CAPPA Children’s Foundation

Caring Across Generations

Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities


Center for American Progress

Center for Biological Diversity

Center for Community Self-Help

Center for Constitutional Rights

Center for Disability Rights

Center for Economic and Policy Research

Center for Law & Social Policy (CLASP)

Center for Policing Equity

Center for Public Representation

Center for Reproductive Rights

Center for Responsible Lending

Center on Conscience & War

Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at NYU School of Law

Central Iowa Center for Independent Living

Child and Family Policy Center

Child Care Council, Inc

Child Care Law Center

Child Care Resources, Inc.

Child Care Services Association

Children’s Defense Fund – NY

Children’s Forum

Children’s HealthWatch

Children’s Defense Fund

Chinese American Progressive Action

Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC)

Church of Scientology National Affairs Office

Church World Service


Citizen Action of New York

Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues

Coalition for Juvenile Justice

Coalition of Asian Americans

Coalition of Labor Union Women

Coalition on Human Needs

College and Community Fellowship

Color Of Change

Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Common Cause


Community Alliance on Prisons

Community Change Action

Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI)

Concerned Citiizen

Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces

Connecticut Association for Human Services

Constitutional Accountability Center

CONTACT Rape Crisis Center

Council of Korean Americans

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

CT Alliance to End Sexual Violence

CURR (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants)

DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence


Declaration for American Democracy

Defending Rights & Dissent

Demand Justice

Demand Progress

Democracy Initiative

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)

Disciples Center for Public Witness

Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)

Early Care & Learning Council



Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center


Economic Opportunity Institute

Economic Policy Institute

Educare Learning Network

Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC)

End Citizens United // Let America Vote Action Fund

End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin

Endangered Species Coalition

Equal Justice Society

Equal Rights Advocates

Equality North Carolina

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Exp Realty,LLC – One eXp Co-Chair for Diversity and Inclusion

Fair Count Inc.

Fair and Just Prosecution

Faith in Public Life

Families USA

Family Crisis Center, Inc.

Family Equality

Family Values @ Work

Farmworker Justice

Feminist Majority Foundation

First Presbyterian Day School

Florida Council Against Sexual Violence

Florida Council of Churches


Franciscan Action Network

Franklin & Marshall College

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Futures Without Violence


Global Development Organizations Insights

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders


Government Information Watch


Greenpeace USA

Harm Reduction Coalition

Health Care for America Now (HCAN)

Health Care Voter

Hindu American Foundation

Hip Hop Caucus

Hispanic Federation

Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO)

Housing Choice Partners

Human Rights Campaign

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Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence

Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Immigration Hub

In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda

Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence



Innocence Project

Institute for Childhood Preparedness

Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice

International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA)

Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Islamic Relief USA

Jane Doe Inc.

Japanese American Citizens League


Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Jewish Women International

Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

Just Detention International

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Justice for Women COVID-19 Task Force

Justice in Aging

Justice Roundtable

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JustLeadership USA

Juvenile Law Center

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Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, Inc.

Labor Council for Latin American Advancement

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Media Alliance

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Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence



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Muslim Advocates

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National CAPACD – National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development

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National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

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National Health Law Program

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National Religious Campaign Against Torture

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

National Fair Housing Alliance


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National Wildlife Federation

National Women’s Law Center

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NC Child

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NC Institute for Child Development Professionals

Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence

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New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence

New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs

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Not In Our Town

OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates

OCA Greater Chicago

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One Pennsylvania

Open Society Policy Center

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Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence

Our Revolution

PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Pacific Islander Community Association

Parent Voices CA

Parent-Child Center

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Partnership for America’s Children

Pax Christi USA

Peace Action

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR)

Pennsylvania Head Start Association

Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition

People For the American Way

People’s Action

PFLAG National

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Policing Project at New York Univeristy School of Law

Policy Research & Innovation

Poligon Education Fund

Population Connection Action Fund

Poverty & Race Research Action Council

Prison Policy Initiative

Private US citizen

Progressive Multiplier Action Fund

Progressive Power Lab

Public Advocacy for Kids (PAK)

Public Citizen

Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism


Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United


ReThink Media

Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Rock the Vote

Safer Foundation

SD Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)

Sierra Club

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Justice Team


South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center

SPLC Action Fund

Spouse Abuse Sexual Assault Crisis Center, Inc.

States United to Prevent Gun Violence

Stand Up America

Stop Abusive Family Environments, Inc. (SAFE)

Strategies for Youth

Survivors Rising

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights


Tahirih Justice Center

Take on Wall Street

Tax March

Texas Council on family violence

Texas Inmate Families Association

Texas Progressive Action Network

The Arc of the United States

The Black Sex Worker Collective

The Center for Family Justice, Inc.

The Climate Reality Project

The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families

The Daniel Initiative

The Gathering for Justice

The Heartsing Table

The Justice Collaborative

The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence

The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)

The Ohio Head Start Association

The Ounce of Prevention Fund

The Sentencing Project

The Sikh Coalition

The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society

Think Small

TN State Conference NAACP

TRANScending Barriers Atlanta

Trustees for Alaska

Tyer Temple United Methodist Church

UFW Foundation

Ujima Inc: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community



United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries

United Farm Workers (UFW)


United We Dream


USCCB Subcommittee on African American Affairs

Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

Violence Free Colorado

Violence Free Minnestoa

Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

Voices for Progress

Voices Of Hope

Voto Latino

Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs


West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence

West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services

Whitman-Walker Health and Whitman-Walker Institute

Win Without War

Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Wisconsin Early Childhood Association

Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network

Women’s Community Justice Association

Worth Rises

Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Young Invincibles

Youth Celebrate Diversity

YWCA New Britain


[1] Zelizer, J. ( May 30, 2020). It has been 5 Decades Since 1968, and Things are Somehow Worse, CNN

[2] Database of Police Shooting since 2015. (May 29, 2020). Fatal Force, The Washington Post,

[3] The Sentencing Project. (Apr. 19, 2018). UN Report on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System Available at,

[4] Muhammad, K. (July 26, 2019). Why police accountability Remains Out of Reach, The Washington Post, This article highlights the prosecutorial decisions not to indict police because of impenetrable qualified immunity for police and acquittals based on racism.  The cases of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Terence Crutcher and Philando Castile are examples of this dynamic.

[4] Southall, A. (Aug. 8, 2019). Officer in ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Chokehold Was ‘Untruthful,’ Judge Says, NY Times

[5] See, e.g., American Civil Liberties Union. (2014). War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization Of American Police, at 2. “[T]he use of hyper-aggressive tools and tactics results in tragedy for civilians and police officers, escalates the risk of needless violence, destroys property, and undermines individual liberties.”

[7] Thompson, L. (May 29, 2020). The Police Killing You Probably Didn’t Hear About This Week, Mother Jones

[8] Adone, D., Silberman, H., Alonso, M. (May 29, 2020). The Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck had 18 previous complaints against him, police department says, CNN,

[9] (Dec. 4, 2014). Officer Who Killed Tamir Rice Found Unfit in Previous Job, NBC,

[10] Burke, M. (Oct. 11, 2018). Officer who fatally shot Tamir Rice Quits Ohio Police Department Days After He was Hired, NBC,

[11] Public Law 113 – 242 – Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013

[12] See e.g., The President’s 21st Century Task Force report at 2.15, at


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