Rep. Lawson: Police Reform In The Works; RNC Must Consider 'Public Safety'

Jun 8, 2020

North Florida Congressman Al Lawson, D-FL5, has been hearing from constituents who say they want racial and religious profiling by police to end, along with more mandated racial bias training.

On WJCT’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross Monday, Lawson told guest host Charles Griggs that constituents have told him they want law enforcement to abandon no-knock warrants in drug cases and choke holds when restraining suspects.

“We need the police. But we need to really make sure that we stop many of the things that have happened that has targeted African American youth,” Lawson said.

Unlike after past protests, Lawson believes this time the social unrest has reached a level where change will take place.

“You’re going to see for the first time, you know, in 100 years or so, that there’s going to be stricter guidelines put in,” he said, referring to law enforcement practices.

Lawson said he’s been talking with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including Jacksonville area Congressman John Rutherford, R-FL4, who is also a former Jacksonville sheriff.

“We are going to take up a bill this week in relationship to improving police training and practices,” Lawson said, adding he will continue to work in a bipartisan way, despite political polarization in Washington.

The congressman, who represents an area stretching from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee, indicated he is working to make sure there is enough funding for police-worn body cameras, saying if there’s not enough money at the local level, then the federal government needs to put the money in a package.

Lawson said Florida's body cam laws discourage the public release of footage.

“The way the laws are designed in Florida, and some of the things that the [police] unions have in place, it makes it very difficult for them to do it [release video],” adding, “that’s the reason why you need federal [body cam] reform legislation.”

The congressman also weighed in on Jacksonville’s bid by Mayor Lenny Curry to bring the Republican National Convention (RNC) to the area, saying it would present health and public safety challenges.

“I do understand why mayors would say, 'We want this convention,' because it brings in a lot of money and a lot of resources,” Lawson said. “But with this pandemic and coronavirus that we have, there’s going to have to be limitations wherever the conventions go, whether the Democratic convention or the other convention.”

Related 

President Donald Trump has threatened to move the convention out of Charlotte because North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has said it's "very unlikely" the state can permit a full-capacity RNC.

Lawson said he has not talked with Curry about the possibility of the RNC's coming to Jacksonville, but stressed, “public safety is more important than any of these conventions.”

Listen to the full interview with Congressman Lawson, along with the rest of Monday's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, here.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.