WASHINGTON – The brother of George Floyd delivered an emotional plea Wednesday for Congress to act to stop police violence against minorities, formally launching the congressional effort to revamp laws after his brother’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked protests across the country.
With negotiations at both ends of the Capitol heightening, Philonise Floyd put a personal face on a death that had been, in his estimation, almost desensitized by the recurring loop of his older brother’s video-recorded death on TV news.
“I couldn’t take care of George that day he was killed, but maybe by speaking with you today, I can make sure that his death would not be in vain. To make sure that he is more than another face on a T-shirt. More than another name on a list that won’t stop growing,” Floyd told the House Judiciary Committee.
He went on to tell the panel that he was “tired of pain, pain you feel when you watch something like that, when you watch your big brother – who you looked up to your whole life – die, die begging for his mom.”
He added: “Stop the pain.”
When it was not his turn to speak during the nearly six-hour hearing, Floyd wore a mask, part of the coronavirus safety response, that included an image of his brother. “It is on you to make sure his death wasn’t in vain,” he told the committee.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the committee, opened the session by reading the names of Floyd and several other African Americans who died in similar circumstances while outlining the legislation that Democrats unveiled Monday, shaped largely by the Congressional Black Caucus.
“We must act today to honor their memory,” Nadler said.
The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 would ban chokeholds, establish a national database to track police misconduct and prohibit some no-knock warrants, among other initiatives. The bill, which has more than 200 Democratic co-sponsors, contains several provisions that would make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct in civil and criminal court.
At the hearing, Republicans did little to focus on the Democratic proposal and instead decried the “defund the police” movement that is growing in some cities, designed to dramatically overhaul local forces.
To illustrate their opposition to the looting and violence that happened during some of the protests that followed the Floyd killing, Republicans called Angela Underwood Jacobs, whose brother Patrick Underwood was killed in Oakland, Calif., in a shooting police said was related to a protest.
“Fear, hatred, ignorance and blind violence snatched the life of my brother Patrick from all of us,” Jacobs said. “Every day the actions of a few are dividing us as a nation at a time when we should be coming together and uniting for the well-being of all people. We will never solve generational, systemic injustice with looting, burning, destruction of property and killing in the name of justice.”
Lawmakers questioned a dozen witnesses, with testimony from officials from civil rights organizations and law enforcement, and from religious leaders. At an emotional point, Philonise Floyd and Jacobs were given an opportunity to talk about the personal ordeals of their respective brothers’ recent deaths.
Philonise Floyd said that the video of his brother’s death, playing repeatedly, “felt like 8 hours 46 minutes” and that his family just keeps asking “why” it all happened, moved to tears as he spoke. “They just cry and cry every day.”
“His life mattered. All our lives matter. Black lives matter,” Floyd said. “I just, I just wish I could get him back.”
Jacobs said she and Philonise Floyd are on “opposite ends” of the debate, because her brother wore a police uniform. But she said they both had the same objective at the hearing, getting Congress to produce the right legislation.
“If you can’t get it right, there’s no hope for the rest of us,” she told lawmakers.
Later, Floyd pulled off his mask and told lawmakers that he was “too emotional” to continue discussing details about this brother’s death. He spoke to Congress a day after his brother’s funeral in Houston.
Democrats said this hearing will launch several weeks of consideration, first in committee and then a full House floor debate, perhaps with a vote by the end of the month.
Despite this panel’s recent partisan history – it formally sent articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the full House in December – a key Democrat found optimism that some Republican support could emerge for the legislation.
“Their theater is about defunding the police, which has nothing to do with the legislation, so that makes me a little hopeful that maybe there’s room for us,” Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., co-author of the proposal, said of the GOP complaints.
Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said she was “a little hopeful” after hearing one witness called by Republicans testify to all the abuse he faced growing up as a black man in Ohio.
Republicans with more libertarian leanings, including Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Tom McClintock of California, voiced support for some proposals. Gaetz, a close Trump ally, said it was “fine time” to outlaw chokehold and promised “Republican cooperation” on some proposals.
However, the legislation still faces an uphill climb.
Senate Republicans have indicated that they are interested in coming up with their own proposals. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the Senate, has been tasked with leading the effort, which included a meeting late Tuesday with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Jared Kushner, a senior presidential adviser.
Exiting Wednesday’s Senate GOP luncheon, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voiced support for banning chokeholds and creating a national registry for violent police misconduct as well as an idea floated by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to tie federal funding to police forces with good records.
“You’re not going to get federal money if you don’t best business practices,” Graham, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters.
Graham had not spoken to Trump about the issue and questioned whether Democrats were trying to get a political victory by having Republicans block proposals that have polled well in recent days.
“First thing I’ll do is find out, are Democrats willing to work with us to find something, and then we’ll go talk to him,” Graham said.
To focus their attention on the “defund” issue, House Republicans included Daniel Bongino in their witness lineup. He is a conservative radio show host and a contributor to Fox News whose confrontational style sometimes wins him kudos from Trump. He used his testimony to focus entirely on the “defund” movement that he argued would “target these heroes” in local police departments.
“Please stop this defund-the-police abomination before someone gets hurt,” said Bongino, who ran for Congress three times over the past decade. He was a New York City officer before serving more than 10 years as a U.S. Secret Service agent.
Top congressional Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have distanced themselves from the activists’ demands, with several saying it’s not an issue for Congress.
The Democratic bill contains one proposal long sought by civil rights advocates. It would change “qualified immunity,” the legal doctrine that shields officers from lawsuits, by lowering the bar for plaintiffs to sue officers for alleged civil rights violations. Another section would change federal law so victims of excessive force or other violations need only show that officers “recklessly” deprived them of their rights. The current statute requires victims to show that officers’ actions were “willful.”
Its other provisions include formally making lynching a federal crime.
At times, Philonise Floyd said his brother faced “a modern-day lynching.”
In his opening statement, he explained the minor infraction that led to his brother’s altercation with police, ending with an officer’s knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes before he died.
“He didn’t deserve to die over 20 dollars,” Philonise Floyd said. “I am asking you, ‘is that what a black man is worth? Twenty dollars?’ This is 2020. Enough is enough. The people marching in the streets are telling you enough is enough.”
Video: http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/national/george-floyds-brother-makes-emotional-plea-to-congress-make-it-stop/2020/06/10/344ab941-fbf6-484d-963a-f824aa59d2ce_video.html(The Washington Post)
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