WASHINGTON — George Floyd’s younger brother, Philonise Floyd, pleaded with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday to ensure that his brother didn’t die in vain.
“I can’t tell you the kind of pain you feel when you watch something like that. When you watch your big brother, who you looked up to your whole entire life die, die begging for his mom,” Philonise Floyd testified at a U.S. House hearing on police reform.
George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis last month has sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and racial discrimination.
“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 will not be in vain,” Philonise Floyd said. “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.”
He implored lawmakers: “Honor George and make the necessary changes that make law enforcement the solution and not the problem.”
Congressional Democrats unveiled sweeping legislation earlier this week that aims to dramatically overhaul law enforcement. It would increase police accountability, bar racial profiling and boost transparency surrounding officers’ actions.
“This is Congress’ most comprehensive effort in decades to substantially address police misconduct,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
But while she welcomed law enforcement legislation, “policing reform alone is not going to solve the crisis that we’re in today,” she said. She urged leaders to “envision a new paradigm” that involves shrinking the footprint of the criminal legal system in the lives of people of color and increasing investment in social services.
“When we stop using criminal justice policy as social policy, we will make communities safer and more prosperous,” Gupta said.
Although House Democrats are expected to pass the wide-ranging police reform bill in the coming weeks, it faces dim prospects of clearing the GOP-led Senate. There, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has asked Tim Scott of South Carolina to take the lead on a police reform package.
Scott wrote on Twitter Tuesday that he would soon release details on a police reform and retraining package. “I am hopeful that this legislation will bring much-needed solutions,” he said.
Democrats calling for massive overhauls are urging their colleagues to fundamentally rethink the nature of policing.
Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat and the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told lawmakers Wednesday that if the Democratic-backed bill had been law, “George Floyd would be alive because chokeholds would be banned.”
Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police officers in Louisville, Ky., in March, “would be alive because no-knock warrants for drugs would be banned,” Bass added. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old killed by police in Cleveland in 2014, “would have graduated high school this May.”
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan are all cosponsors of the Democrats’ police reform bill.
“The pain people are expressing through peaceful protests is real. I see it, I hear the calls for change and I know we have to work to heal the wounds of racism in our country. We can say liberty and justice for all, but we need to make sure everyone can live this value,” Baldwin said this week in a statement. “This is long overdue and we must meet this critical moment now to address systemic racism and fix policing policies in our country.”
‘Defund the police’
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee and was at the hearing Wednesday, said that Floyd’s “brutal murder” had made him sick.
“The pain of your brother, I think, has become the pain of America,” he told Philonise Floyd. “It’s up to us to constructively deal with this so that we can do more than just have a press release and make a difference.”
Sensenbrenner joined President Donald Trump and GOP congressional leaders who have criticized calls from some advocates to “defund the police.”
There are “good cops and there are bad cops,” Sensenbrenner said, calling it a “horrible idea” to defund the police. He added, “99% of the people who serve in law enforcement and put their lives on the line every day of the year are good cops.”
Republicans in Congress are seizing upon the “defund the police” movement to attack some Democrats and activists who are calling for systemic reforms to address racial inequality.
“The vast, vast majority of law enforcement officers are responsible, hardworking, heroic first responders,” Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan said at Wednesday’s hearing. Americans, he said, “know it is pure insanity to defund the police. And the fact that my Democrat colleagues won’t speak out against this crazy policy is just that — frightening.”
Trump praised Jordan’s comments on Twitter Wednesday and used the opportunity to slam the Democratic presidential nominee. “This Radical Left agenda is not going to happen. Sleepy Joe Biden will be (already is) pulled all the way Left. Many, like Minneapolis, want to close their Police Departments. Crazy!” Trump tweeted.
There’s a debate among advocates who want to “defund the police” about exactly what that would mean. Some are calling for steep cuts to police budgets while channeling that cash into social service programs; others want to eliminate police departments entirely.
Biden’s campaign told The New York Times this week that he is opposed to cutting police funding and believes more spending is necessary to help improve law enforcement and community policing.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, told reporters on Wednesday that Trump and congressional Republicans “are going to play with that term ‘defund the police’ as if Democrats want to eliminate police departments. That’s clearly not true, but that’s what they’ll say.”
Brown added, “Defunding police doesn’t mean we disband police departments. It doesn’t mean we don’t spend money for law enforcement. It means we start thinking more about training police, about discipline, about making sure that mental health services are available in communities and some things aren’t police work that have kind of been defined that way.”
“For years, communities of color have shouldered the burden of police brutality and suffered tremendous loss,” Rep. Gwen Moore said in a statement on the Democrats’ legislation. “Throughout my life, I have seen these killings unfold, and it has felt like history is repeating itself.”
“Communities are urging for meaningful change, and many have channeled their pain towards mobilizing and organizing for real justice,” Moore added. “As elected officials, I am proud that we are directing our outrage into legislative action … helping to stop these needless tragedies.”