WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath consoled the brother of George Floyd during a Wednesday Capitol Hill hearing as she drew on her family’s personal tragedy to appeal to lawmakers to ensure the man didn’t die in vain on the pavement in Minneapolis.
“We come to this hearing today as a result of deep morally painful wounds and events that happen in this country again and again and again,” McBath told a U.S. House committee meeting on police reform. “We come to remember George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the many lives that have been lost to violence at the hands of those with a sworn duty to protect and serve us.”
The Marietta Democrat choked up as she recalled her own son’s violent death and said the mishandling of the Glynn County investigation into the slaying of Brunswick’s Ahmaud Arbery is proof it is time to de-escalate the country’s approach to law and order.
“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.
George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis last month has sparked protests in Georgia and across the country 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.
McBath recounted the explosive testimony of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent at a magistrate’s hearing at the Glynn County Courthouse last week, where the white men who chased him down a public street in a February confrontation were bound over to superior court, charged with Arbery’s murder.
And she drew a clear line between the string of violent deaths and racial animus during Wednesday’s hearing.
“Georgia investigators testified last week, that Ahmaud’s killer used the N-word as Ahmaud laid dying in the street,” McBath said. “The investigator testified that the killer’s father, a former police officer carried a handgun during the pursuit. A handgun, that was issued to him by his police department. A handgun that he carried as a police officer still bearing the initials of the department.”
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 Republican Sen. 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 including McBath are calling for massive overhauls and urging their colleagues to fundamentally rethink the nature of policing.
“I feel the pain experienced by too many families every single day and every single day it happens it’s like a sucker-punch to my heart and my gut,” McBath said. “Because when is it going to stop?”
Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, in March, “would be alive because no-knock warrants for drugs would be banned,” said Rep. Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old killed by police in Cleveland in 2014, “would have graduated high school this May.”
‘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.”