Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna talks police reform, COVID-19
Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna speaks to a constituent at a town hall in San Jose in this file photo.

    Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna kicked off his virtual town hall on Thursday afternoon with an important update about the Justice in Policing Act.

    “We passed it today in the House; it passed overwhelmingly,” he said.

    The Justice in Policing Act is a set of sweeping reforms intended to resolve systemic racism in law enforcement. Among other changes, it would ban the use of chokeholds, prohibit no-knock warrants for drug cases and create a national database to record police misconduct.

    Khanna and Missouri Congressman Lacy Clay introduced the Police Exercising Absolute Care for Everyone Act last year. The PEACE Act, which provided clarifications for when excessive force could be used, has since been incorporated into the Justice in Policing Act.

    “Last year it had 22 co-sponsors,” Khanna said. “Lacy Clay and I, we were considered extreme for suggesting that we change the standard of force to be consistent with human rights law. Today it passed and 231 Democrats co-sponsored it, so it shows that the people marching on the streets (for police reform), they’re having an impact.”

    More than a dozen constituents asked questions during the remainder of the 45-minute town hall, which was live streamed on Facebook. Many of the questions were centered around racial disparities and law enforcement, with one participant asking if police departments would be defunded.

    Explaining that police officers are a necessary part of society, Khanna said defunding the police didn’t mean disbanding law enforcement all together. But the representative said it was time to examine whether funding is being appropriately distributed among police and other social services, like education and affordable housing.

    “What is the balance?” he said. “That is, I think, the conversation we need to have.”

    Khanna also spoke about the need to restructure police departments. He said officers need to receive more training in mental health and social work so they can empower the communities they serve. Meanwhile, a slew of local nonprofit leaders this week told San José Spotlight they’re prepared to take over non-emergency police calls that deal with social issues, such as mental health and homelessness.

    Another topic of concern to constituents: COVID-19. Kennita Watson questioned how the country will recover from the virus’s economic ramifications. Khanna said the only option was to borrow money and pay it back later after the economy has stabilized.

    “We are spending, Kennita, large sums of money but what is the alternative?” he asked. “If we didn’t spend it, we would have even more unemployment, the economy would shrink even more, we would have less tax revenue and we would increase our deficit.”

    Brandon Stoll asked what the nation was doing to help developing countries handle COVID-19 outbreaks. The congressman acknowledged that the U.S. should assist developing nations and increase aid to the World Health Organization. No country will be safe from the possibility of another outbreak, he said, until the virus is eradicated everywhere.

    As he concluded the town hall, Khanna recognized that the last few months have been difficult for many Americans. But he said he believed the United States would learn from the current challenges.

    “If this redoubles our effort and commitment to help those who have been left behind in the digital age, if this helps our commitment to make sure we have greater racial equity, then we will emerge from these crises stronger as a nation,” he said. “I believe we will respond, as we so often do as Americans, to crises with greater reflections and a greater commitment to justice.”

    Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.


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