WASHINGTON – George Floyd's brother is the key witness of what's expected to be a charged House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday morning on policing reforms amid nationwide protests demanding an end to violence by law enforcement against African Americans.
Philonise Floyd fought back tears as he spoke about the "big brother" that he never got a chance to say goodbye to last month, after he died last month while in Minneapolis police custody. One of the officers, Derek Chauvin, is facing second degree murder charges, for keeping his knee pressed to Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as he gasped for survival. Three other officers also face charges.
"I’m tired. I’m tired of the pain I’m feeling now and I’m tired of the pain I feel every time another black person is killed for no reason. I’m here today to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain. Stop us from being tired," Philonise Floyd said.
Then he challenged lawmakers to make sure his death would not be "in vain."
"This is 2020. Enough is enough. The people marching in the streets are telling you enough is enough. Be the leaders that this country, this world, needs. Do the right thing," Philonise Floyd said. "The people elected you to speak for them, to make positive change. George’s name means something. You have the opportunity here to make your names mean something, too."
Philonise Floyd wore a black mask that featured a picture of his brother and the words "I can't breathe," one of George Floyd's final words.
George Floyd's death – and recent deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of police around the country – have ignited two weeks of national protests calling for dramatic changes in the way the police train and discipline their officers. Some have even called for "defunding" law enforcement agencies.
"Millions of Americans now call out 'I can't breath' as a rallying cry in the streets all across our country, demanding a fundamental change in the culture of law enforcement and meaningful accountability for officers who commit misconduct.," said Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who chairs the Judiciary panel. "Today we answer their call."
On Monday, congressional Democrats unveiled a package of sweeping reforms as part of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020.
The bill calls for mandatory dashboard and body cameras, an end to police chokeholds, and the creation of a national registry to track officers with a record of misconduct. It also would bar the use of "no-knock" warrants for drug cases and end qualified immunity for police officers, making them personally liable for constitutional violations such as excessive force.
"That moment of national anguish is being transformed into a movement of national action as Americans from across the country peacefully protest to demand an end to injustice," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday at a Capitol Hill news conference, referring to George Floyd's killing. "We cannot settle for anything less than transformative, structural change."
The bill could be passed out of committee as early as next week and brought to the floor before the end of the month, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, pushed back during the hearing, calling Floyd's death "as wrong as wrong can be," but criticizing Democrats' response as a gross overreach that smears all officers as bad cops.
"The vast majority of law enforcement officers are responsible, hard working, heroic first responders," Jordan said. "They're the officers who protect the Capitol, protect us every single day, they're the officers who rushed into the (World Trade Center) twin towers on 911. They're the officers in every one of our neighborhoods in every one of our communities. Every day, every night, every shift, they work to put their lives on the line to keep our community safe."
As a counterpoint, Republicans invited Angela Underwood Jacobs, whose brother David Patrick Underwood was a federal law enforcement officer who was shot and killed while providing security at the U.S. courthouse in Oakland during a protest last month over Floyd's death.
"There's a big difference between peaceful protests and violence and attacking innocent people," Jordan said. "And there is certainly a big difference between peaceful protests and killing police officers."
Minutes after Jordan finished speaking, President Donald Trump, who has been a target of anger from protesters, tweeted out his praise for the congressman's comments, saying "This Radical Left agenda is not going to happen."
Underwood told lawmakers how heartbroken she was that she'd never see her brother's smile or hear his infectious humor again.
"This is bigger than a black, white or blue issue," she said. "This is a humanity issue. When those in a position of authority, choose to abuse their power. That is the very definition of oppression. And when innocent people are harmed in the name of justice. No one prevails, we all lose."
Republicans are crafting their own response led by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone GOP African American in the Senate.
Scott told reporters Tuesday he supports some elements in the House bill, including a federal lynching ban, increased requirements for body cameras on officers, more anti-bias training, and greater federal oversight of local police departments.
But he said he's reluctant to mandate an end to police tactics such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
"I basically shy away from telling local law enforcement: 'you shouldn't do that' or 'you can't do this,'" Scott told reporters on Capitol Hill. "I think their bill has a tendency to be seen as perhaps a nationalization of some of the underlying issues or techniques. With 7,000-plus jurisdictions, it's really difficult for me to think that we here can figure out the best utilization though I would support some of the outcomes that (Democrats) are looking at."
Neither of the approaches would include "defunding" police agencies which some left-leaning groups and progressive lawmakers have demanded.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, called Floyd's death "a shock to the conscience" and told the committee there's "no denying changes in policing must be made."
But he said slashing police budgets would be counter-productive because training programs designed to help officers identify bias and de-escalate volatile situations would be casualties of such cuts.
"The overwhelming majority of cops are good people," Acevedo said. "They are faithful public servants who put their uniform on every day, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice."
Trump and some congressional Republicans have seized on the proposal to paint the larger call for reform as radical.
Philonise Floyd told lawmakers that if the death of his brother he called Perry "ends up changing the world for the better – and I think it will; I think it has – then he died as he lived."
"I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to Perry while he was here. I was robbed of that. But, I know he’s looking down on us now," he said. "Perry, look at what you did, big brother. You’re changing the world. Thank you for everything. For taking care of us when you were on Earth, and for taking care of all of us now. I hope you found mama and can rest in peace and power."