Members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday introduced a bill that would strongly encourage states to eliminate the use of secret grand juries to determine whether police officers should face a trial after using deadly force against civilians.
The bill is a response to two controversial grand jury decisions in which white police officers were not indicted after killing black men.
In the first case, Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, but was not indicted after witnesses said he acted in self defense. In the second case, Eric Garner died in New York after being placed in a restraining neck hold by Officer Dan Pantaleo, but Pantaleo was also not indicted.
While the first decision split people politically, the New York decision angered many who believed video evidence in the case should have been enough for the grand jury to indict Pantaleo. Some details were revealed about the evidence seen by the grand juries, but those processes take place without any way for the public to observe them.
In an attempt to fix the grand jury system, the Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and nine other House Democrats proposed the Grand Jury Reform Act. The legislation would create a strong incentive for states to appoint special prosecutors, who would be tasked with conducting a probably cause hearing in cases where a police officer kills a civilian.
That hearing would be open to the public, and would be used instead of a grand jury to determine whether the officer should face a trial. While states would not be required to follow the legislation, many would likely do so — states that don't would not receive any federal funding.
Johnson said that system would help restore the trust that he said has been broken from the Missouri and New York cases.
"The protesters demand an end to what is perceived as unequal justice, and that those who are responsible for the use of excessive force be brought to justice," Johnson said. "They do not trust a secret grand jury system that is so clearly broken."
"My bill will help restore that trust," he said. "No longer will communities have to rely on the secret and biased grand jury process."