Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on police brutality and racial profiling on June 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. George Floyd died May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody, sparking worldwide protests. (Photo by Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)
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.
Iowa’s three Democratic members of Congress have signed on to support the bill.
“All across our country and right here in Iowa, communities are marching for justice and substantive change to the systems that failed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other African Americans,” Rep. Cynthia Axne said in a statement. “The changes they demand are long overdue — and I share their desire for a robust response that will not only tackle racism and bias in our institutions, but also takes direct steps to save lives and hold our police officers accountable.”
Rep. Abby Finkenauer tweeted that the bill is “essential legislation to enact reform and ensure accountability in American policing.”
And Rep. Dave Loebsack said in a statement that he’s backing the bill “to begin addressing the changes that need to be made and will continue working with my colleagues on policies to make our country a more just and equal place.”
He added, “It has been heartening to see the vast crowds of people out on the streets peacefully voicing their support for change. We must work to root out the systemic problems we face. While the vast majority of officers are dedicated to protecting their communities, now is a time to enact reforms, along with strong accountability measures, to ensure the safety and freedom of all Americans.”
‘A new paradigm’
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told lawmakers Wednesday that the legislation marks Congress’ “most comprehensive effort in decades to substantially address police misconduct.”
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.
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.”
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.
I just finished up a productive lunch discussion on a police reform and retraining package proposal. My colleagues and I will be releasing more details on the draft in the near future. I am hopeful that this legislation will bring much-needed solutions.
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) June 9, 2020
Iowa Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is slated to hold a hearing next week on police use of force. Grassley and Ernst are cosponsors of legislation that would require states receiving federal law enforcement funding to report certain details surrounding officer-related shootings.
“Sen. Grassley will be working closely with his colleagues to formulate the Senate package” on police reforms, his spokesman Taylor Foy said.
Ernst “looks forward to taking part in the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on police use of force and continuing to have conversations with her Democratic and Republican colleagues, as well as Iowans throughout the state, about solutions to the injustices we’ve seen across the country,” her spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell said in a statement.
‘Defund the police’
President Donald Trump and GOP congressional leaders are seizing upon the “defund the police” movement to attack Democrats as the November elections approach.
“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.
Democrats accuse the GOP of using the debate to distract voters.
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.”
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