Politics Race

The BREATHE Act Calls for Sweeping Change to Criminal Justice System

The Movement for Black Lives has proposed a bill that calls for sweeping changes to the nation’s criminal justice system. Introduced on Tuesday, the BREATHE Act calls to divert federal resources from systemically racist institutions such as policing and incarceration.

The Movement for Black Lives is a coalition of over 150 organizations fighting for racial justice. In 2017, it launched the Electoral Justice Project, the policy leg that is now presenting the BREATHE Act.

The bill breaks down into four sections, beginning with the divestment of federal resources from incarceration and policing. This includes the elimination of major agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This section also calls to end life sentences, decriminalize drug offenses, and prohibit the use of facial recognition technology. These practices are known to disproportionately criminalize the most marginalized communities.

Further sections focus on community investment and accountability. In order to reverse the recent militarization of police departments, the BREATHE Act would establish the Neighborhood Demilitarization Program. This program would collect and destroy military-grade equipment held by law enforcement agencies by 2022.

The act also calls for funding equity between schools and the removal of law enforcement presence in schools. Community programs and grants would protect children and families and create economic justice.

The proposed changes come at a time of national outcry against police violence towards Black people. “This moment is a watershed moment. I think this moment calls for structural change and transformative change in ways that we haven’t seen in a very long time. We see this opportunity to push for the BREATHE Act as a part of what we’re calling the modern-day civil rights act,” said Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors.

Although expected to be met with resistance in Congress, University of Michigan professor and criminal justice expert Heather Ann Thompson noted the opportune timing of the legislation. “I think those programs that they’re suggesting eliminating only look radical if we really ignore the fact that there has been tremendous pressure to meaningfully reform this criminal justice system. Every radical piece of legislation that we’ve ever passed in this country, it has passed on the heels of the kinds of grassroots protests that we saw on the streets. The will of the people indicates that if they just keep putting a Band-Aid on it, these protests are not going to go away,” said Thompson.

No members of Congress have yet to introduce the bill, but The BREATHE Act has seen support from lawmakers, including Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib.

Sources: The BREATHE Act; AP News 7/7/20; Forbes 7/7/20