As the House Judiciary Committee considered police reform legislation Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler spoke out against defunding police departments -- and quickly received a correction from a Democratic colleague who wrote the bill being discussed. An amendment he proposed calling for an investigation of the "antifa" movement also went over poorly.
The committee met Wednesday to consider a bill that would ban no-knock warrants and chokeholds, make it easier to prosecute officers accused of wrongdoing, and create a national database of misconduct, among other provisions.
“Last week, George Floyd’s brother, Philonise, sat in this room and he told us of the pain he felt watching the video of his brother being killed by a Minneapolis police officer,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York. “He spoke to the frustration that, time and again, in the face of overwhelming evidence that dramatic reform is needed, Congress has done very little.”
The measure was written by House Democrats as protests against police brutality continue across the country. In some cities, like Minneapolis, local officials have embraced demands from some protesters to defund the police. Supporters of the idea have different interpretations of what it means, but it broadly refers to rethinking the role of police departments and reinvesting money from their budgets into other efforts to support communities of color.
The proposal considered Wednesday does not defund police departments, but Reschenthaler, along with other Republicans on the committee, voiced concern about the idea anyway.
“The Democrats want to defund, dismantle and abolish the police,” said Reschenthaler, who used his allotted speaking time Wednesday to highlight a selection of quotes from Democratic officials.
“Steve Fletcher, Minnesota council city [sic] member, he’s stated that he and the city council president and the chair of public safety are calling to, and I quote, ‘disband our police department and start fresh with a community oriented, nonviolent public safety and outreach capacity.’”
The Republican, who represents Westmoreland, Washington, Fayette and Greene counties, went on to claim that the Seattle area that protesters have largely occupied peacefully – known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) or the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) – is run by a terrorist organization.
Reschenthaler also cited Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who he said was “looking to defund the police to the tune of $150 million of cuts.” It was that remark that sparked swift condemnation from U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, the Democrat who introduced the legislation the committee considered Wednesday.
“I have to correct my good friend, Representative Reschenshawler [sic],” Bass said. “Since you called out my city, Los Angeles, I will tell you that our mayor did not defund the police. In Los Angeles on any given day we have 40,000 people who are homeless. 40,000. And so what he did was reallocate money to address the problems that the police department never wants to deal with because they shouldn’t.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Garcetti announced plans this month to divert around $150 million from the police budget to fund social services programs to address “structural racism” that black people face in the city.
Reschenthaler later introduced an amendment that would ask the FBI to study the far-left extremist movement Antifa and declare them a terrorist group. Antifa is a label attached to a number of disparate far left groups with no central organization. But Reschenthaler said it has been associated with riots following recent protests.
“If you believe that violence, rioting and looting does not respect the values of America then you should vote for my amendment,” he said.
Chairman Jerry Nadler called the amendment "beating a nonsensical dead horse," while other Democrats dismissed Reschenthaler's amendment as a distraction from the topic of police accountability. Among them was U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, an African-American Democrat from Louisiana who addressed committee members "who keep introducing amendments that are a tangent and a distraction from what we’re talking about – you all are white males, you never lived in my shoes and you do not know what it’s like to be an African-American male."
"If you are opposed to this legislation, let’s just have a vote," he said. "But please do not come in this committee room and make a mockery of the pain that exists in my community.”
Reschenthlaer noted that violence at protests had resulted in property damage and injuries. The reform bill is expected to pass out of the Democrat-controlled committee.
* Update: This story was updated at 4:54 p.m. on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 to include a discussion of an amendment by Reschenthaler.