Reps. Ayanna Pressley
(Mass. ), Cori Bush
(Mo. ), and other progressives
are introducing new legislation to “transform the nation’s public safety response” by funding and researching “non-carceral” alternatives to law enforcement
's Response Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), would establish a new public safety agency within the Department of Health and Human Services
to fund research and grants into "health-centered" public safety investments.
This would entail establishing a federal first responders unit to assist states
and local governments with emergency health crises, as well as allocating $2.5 billion to those governments and community organizations to hire mental health
and substance abuse counselors as first responders.
“For far too long, our flawed approach to public safety has prioritized criminalization, surveillance, and incarceration over care, justice, and healing,” Pressley stated in a news
The legislation, according to Bush, will “transform public safety into a system of care rather than criminalization, healing rather than incarceration, and prevention rather than policing.”
It's time to modernize public safety, which is why I'm introducing the People's Response Act. pic.twitter.com/SBtkNvpICV — Congresswoman Cori Bush (@RepCori) June 28, 2021
Following the police killings
of George Floyd
, Breonna Taylor
, and other African-Americans last year, activists renewed calls to defund police departments and reinvest in communities, specifically in alternative responses to 911 calls, including mental health expert responders.
In a number of high-profile cases, people have been killed by police after dialing 911 for help with a mental health crisis or a substance abuse problem.
After responding to a neighbor's request for a welfare check, Fort Worth police shot and killed 28-year-old Black
woman Atatiana Jefferson in her own home in 2019.
In January, a police officer in Killeen, Texas
, fatally shot Patrick Warren, who was Black and unarmed, on his front lawn after his family
requested mental health treatment.
And earlier this year, after a neighbor reported a man who appeared drunk in a park in Alameda, California
, police arrived, handcuffed Mario Gonzalez, then kneeled on his back for minutes, killing the 26-year-old Latino
Since the summer's wave of protests against racist police violence
, some cities have redirected funds budgeted for law enforcement to alternative public safety efforts.
For example, in Oakland
, California, the city council voted last week to spend $18 million (out of an annual police budget of more than $300 million) on alternatives to policing, such as having unarmed fire
department personnel respond to nonviolent 911 calls.