George Floyd’s brother was one of a dozen witnesses to testify before Congress on police brutality and racial profiling on Wednesday, as lawmakers grapple with how to respond to the widespread protests sparked by his brother’s killing.
Philonise Floyd appeared on Capitol Hill alongside Benjamin Crump, the Floyd family’s lawyer, and 10 other witnesses a day after George Floyd’s funeral in Houston, Texas.
“I couldn’t take care of George the day he was killed, but maybe by speaking with you today, I can help make sure that his death isn’t in vain,” his younger brother told the House judiciary committee. “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.”
The 46-year-old Floyd was killed on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. A video of Floyd dying, crying out for his mother and saying “I can’t breathe”, has been shared across the world. The police officer, Derek Chauvin, has been sacked and charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic congressman from New York and chairman of the House judiciary committee, said in his opening statement on Wednesday: “Millions of Americans now call out ‘I can’t breathe’ as a rallying cry in streets all across our country, demanding fundamental change in the culture of law enforcement and meaningful accountability for officers who commit misconduct. Today we answer their call.”
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets to protest about Floyd’s death, putting pressure on lawmakers to reform policing practices and address economic racial disparities in a country that is still reeling from a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected African-Americans.
“Defund the police” has become a rallying cry for many activists, including in Minneapolis, where the local council has said it intends to dismantle and withdraw funding from the city’s police department.
However, congressional Democrats and Joe Biden, the former vice-president who is challenging Donald Trump for the presidency, have distanced themselves from calls to defund the police. Instead they have proposed reforms to police practices and stricter scrutiny and sharper penalties for law enforcement misconduct.
This week, Democrats from the House and Senate proposed sweeping legislation to reform policing practices.
The Democrats’ bill would ban police chokeholds, create a national registry to track police misconduct, make it easier for prosecutors to seek criminal and civil penalties for police abuse, and ban certain “no-knock” warrants, which allow law enforcement to enter properties forcibly.
Many leading Republicans, including Mr Trump, swiftly rejected the Democrats’ proposals, accusing the party of wanting to defund and abolish the police.
However, a group of Republican senators, led by Tim Scott, the sole black Republican senator, are drafting their own proposals for police reform and are expected to introduce a bill before the end of the week. Mr Scott, the junior senator from South Carolina, briefed Republican colleagues on his plans at a lunch on Tuesday, and later met Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and Jared Kushner, the president’s adviser and son-in-law.
Separately on Wednesday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive congresswoman from New York, said she would introduce a bill prohibiting federal, state, and local law enforcement from using tear gas in policing activities. This week, Ms Ocasio-Cortez endorsed calls to defund the police, saying on Twitter: “‘Defund’ means that Black & Brown communities are asking for the same budget priorities that White communities have already created for themselves.”
Bill DeBlasio, the Democratic mayor of New York, said on Sunday that he would cut the city’s police department’s $6bn budget for the first time and reallocate the money to youth and social services.