POLITICS

Senator Pushes Criminal Justice Reform Bill After Baltimore Riots

04/29/2015 10:40 am ET | Updated Apr 30, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced a bill Tuesday that he said would be a preliminary step towards overhauling the criminal justice system in the wake of violent protests over policing in Baltimore and other cities around the country.

The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2015 would create the first national commission on criminal justice since 1965, Peters said in a call with media Tuesday. The legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and has the support of two of its Republican members, Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and John Cornyn (Texas).

Under the proposal, Congress and the president would appoint 14 experts in law enforcement, civil liberties, victims rights and other areas to review the criminal justice system. The group would have 18 months to issue recommendations aimed at increasing public safety and improving relations between communities and law enforcement.

"Whether we're talking about Ferguson or Inkster, Staten Island, North Charleston or what we're seeing actually right now in Baltimore, it’s clear that the relationship between law enforcement and our communities is strained, and it's probably long overdue to have an overhaul of our criminal justice system,” Peters said.

In each city Peters mentioned, a police encounter resulted in the death or injury of a black man, sparking protests. In Baltimore, Freddie Gray died of a spinal injury he sustained while in police custody earlier this month. Six officers have been suspended, and the exact circumstances of his death are being investigated. Protests erupted following Gray’s funeral Monday, leading to instances of violence and looting.

Improving community relations and protecting citizens' civil rights will be two of the top concerns of the commission, Peters said. He added that fixing the grand jury system was also paramount, referencing the lack of an indictment in the death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by a New York officer.

Peters also said the commission will examine local practices of using the justice system to create revenue, and study the prison system and the success of integrating ex-offenders back into society.

Lawmakers have tried and failed to create a criminal justice commission with similar legislation. Peters said he expects the unrest in Baltimore and nationwide clashes over policing to give his bipartisan bill more momentum.

"More and more Americans realize that something does not seem to be working right, when they turn on their TV and they see what has been happening around the country," Peters said. "So I think the time is right."

Some representing the interests of law enforcement backed the bill as well.

“In too many instances, the line police officer is forgotten about in the making of decisions for the law enforcement community,” Police Officers Association of Michigan Legislative Director Kenneth E. Grabowski said in a statement supporting the bill. “But, when things go bad, it's the line officer who first gets blamed. It is time for a major review.”

Establishing a national commission to study the criminal justice system was the first, overarching recommendation in a March report by the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, formed in December.

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  • Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: Demonstrators climb on a destroyed Baltimore Police car in the street near the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues during violent protests following the funeral of Freddie Gray April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray, 25, who was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife April 12 outside the Gilmor Homes housing project on Baltimore's west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A man dances in an intersection, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
  • Baltimore Sun/ABACA
    A Maryland Transit Authority patrol car burns at North and Pennsylvania Avenues on Monday, April 27, 2015, Baltimore, MD, USA. Photo by Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun/TNS/ABACAPRESS.COM
  • The Washington Post via Getty Images
    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: People run as smoke and tear gas is thrown during a protest for Freddie Gray near Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore, MD on Monday April 27, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • The Washington Post via Getty Images
    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: People stand with their hands up as officers move toward them near a CVS pharmacy near West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue during a protest for Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD on Monday April 27, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • The Washington Post via Getty Images
    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: A man throws an object at officers during a protest for Freddie Gray near Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore, MD on Monday April 27, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • The Washington Post via Getty Images
    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: A protestor yells as a CVS burns near West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue during a protest for Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD on Monday April 27, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • The Washington Post via Getty Images
    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: A man runs in front of officers during a protest for Freddie Gray near Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore, MD on Monday April 27, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • The Washington Post via Getty Images
    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: Officers pepper spray people near West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue during a protest for Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD on Monday April 27, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • The Washington Post via Getty Images
    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: Officers look for people throwing objects at them near West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue during a protest for Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD on Monday April 27, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • The Washington Post via Getty Images
    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: A man who was pepper sprayed has his eyes washed out near West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue during a protest for Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD on Monday April 27, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A man, center, shields himself after being struck after a march to City Hall for Freddie Gray, Saturday, April 25, 2015 in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A protestor, left, fights with a bar patron outside of a bar near Oriole Park at Camden Yards after a rally for Freddie Gray, Saturday, April 25, 2015, in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Police detain a man after a march to City Hall for Freddie Gray, Saturday, April 25, 2015 in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Two men are on the ground after being struck after a march to City Hall for Freddie Gray, Saturday, April 25, 2015 in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Men carry items, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A man dances in an intersection, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    WASHINGTON, USA - APRIL 27: Fire Fighter attempt to put out a building that was set on fire during riots in Baltimore, USA on April 27, 2015. Protests following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered while in police custody have turned violent with people throwing debris at police and media and burning cars and businesses. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Baltimore Sun/ABACA
    Looters empty the CVS at Pennsylvania and North Avenues during riots on Monday, April 27, 2015, Baltimore, MD, USA. Photo by Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun/TNS/ABACAPRESS.COM
  • Baltimore Sun/ABACA
    An injured police officer is carried away by his fellow officers on Westbury Avenue in Baltimore during riots on Monday, April 27, 2015. Photo by Erica Green/Baltimore Sun/TNS/ABACAPRESS.COM
  • Baltimore Sun/ABACA
    A member of the Nation of Islam stands between protesters and police at North and Pennsylvania Avenues where riots broke out on Monday, April 27, 2015, Baltimore, MD, USA. Photo by Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun/TNS/ABACAPRESS.COM
  • Baltimore Sun/ABACA
    A protester with a stolen police vest taunts Baltimore police officers on Pennsylvania Avenue during riots on Monday, April 27, 2015, Baltimore, MD, USA. Photo by Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun/TNS/ABACAPRESS.COM
  • Baltimore Sun/ABACA
    Police with shields face a man near the subway station at Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore, MD, USA, on Monday, April 27, 2015. People threw rocks at police and members of the media near the mall during riots Monday afternoon. Photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun/TNS/ABACAPRESS.COM
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this frame from video provided by WJLA, people gather near a store Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Rioters plunged part of Baltimore, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (WJLA via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Baltimore police officers detain a demonstrator after the funeral of Freddie Gray, Monday, April 27, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Baltimore police officers respond to demonstrators after the funeral of Freddie Gray, Monday, April 27, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A police officer walks by a blaze, Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A demonstrator raises his fist as police stand in formation as a store burns, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A boy throws a brick at police, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this frame from video provided by WJLA, smoke rises from a store Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Rioters plunged part of Baltimore, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (WJLA via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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