WASHINGTON, D.C. — Philonise Floyd challenged Congress on Wednesday to “stop the pain” as lawmakers consider a sweeping law enforcement overhaul, so his brother George won’t be just “another name” on a growing list of those killed during interactions with police.
Floyd’s appearance before a House hearing came a day after funeral services for George Floyd, the 46-year-old Minnesota man whose death has become a worldwide symbol in demonstrations over calls for changes to police practices and an end to racial prejudices.
“I’m here today to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain,” Philonise Floyd told the silenced hearing room.
Choking back tears, he said he wants to make sure that his brother, whom he called “Perry,” is “more than another face on a t-shirt. More than another name on a list that won’t stop growing.”
Floyd challenged lawmakers, “Be the leaders that this country, this world, needs. Do the right thing.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler gaveled in the session as Democrats review the Justice in Policing Act, a far-ranging package of proposals amid a national debate on policing and racial inequity.
Lawmakers also heard testimony from civil rights and law enforcement leaders as Congress considers the changes to police practices and accountability after Floyd’s death in police custody and the mass protests that followed.
“Today we answer their call,” Nadler said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi watched from the hearing audience, and the House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy joined on the dais.
Republicans are criticizing activists who want to “defund the police” — a catch-all term for re-imagining law enforcement, but one that President Donald Trump and his allies have seized on to portray Democrats as extreme as GOP lawmakers rush to come up with their own proposals.
“The American people understand that it’s time for a real discussion,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the panel. But he said what they also understand is that “it is pure insanity to defund the police.”
For two hours, witnesses described what one called a “lynching” over what happened to Floyd on May 25, and others placed his death alongside those of other black Americans that have created a tally becoming difficult for lawmakers in Congress to ignore.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is leading the legislative effort, said the proposed changes reflect a nation coming to grips with a history of racial injustice.
“This is about the kind of America we all want to see,” said Bass.
The brother’s testimony captivated the room as he recounted what he saw in the widely viewed video as an officer pressed a knee into George Floyd’s neck while other police stood by. The one officer is now charged with murder, and three others also face charges.
“He didn’t fight back. He listened to the officers. He called them ‘sir,’” said Philonise Floyd. “He still called them ‘sir’ as he begged for his life.”
Within the brother’s wrenching testimony were many of the core issues being debated as part of the police overhaul. Those include questions about whether it’s appropriate to have police officers respond to minor offenses — Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighborhood market — and the use of force to detain suspects.
Philonise Floyd said, “I am asking you, is that what a black man’s life is worth? Twenty dollars? This is 2020. Enough is enough.”
Millions have spilled onto city streets in the U.S. and abroad to protest the death, many embracing the “Black Lives Matter” movement that was launched after the 2014 death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri. The current demonstrations have marked a more diverse, mainstream moment.
“I want America to know, we hear you,” said Art Acevedo, the police chief in Houston and president of the Major City Chiefs Association.
The proposed changes in the Democrats’ legislation don’t go as far as some activists want to defund the police or dismantle departments by shifting law enforcement resources into social work and other community services. It does, however, make available grant money for states to reimagine ways of policing.
Rev. Darrell Scott, who is part of Trump’s national diversity coalition, blasted activists’ push to dismantle police departments as “one of the most unwise, irresponsible proposals” ever.
Scott noted he, like many black men, has been pulled over by police for “driving while black,” as he put it.
“I could very easily have been George Floyd,” he testified. “However, I do not recommend throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”
The committee also heard from Angela Underwood Jacobs, the sister of a law enforcement officer who was shot and killed while he was guarding a federal courthouse in California during the protests that followed Floyd’s death. Dave Patrick Underwood, who was black, was a contracted security officer employed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service.
Underwood Jacobs, a former Republican candidate for Congress, called for justice for Floyd and also for her brother. She said the idea of defunding the police was “ridiculous.”
Still, as lawmakers in both the House and Senate now consider legislation it is clear there is bipartisan support in Congress for several aspects of the proposed changes.
Both Democrats and Republicans have called for a national registry of use-of-force incidents, so police officers cannot transfer between departments without public awareness of their records.
There is also bipartisan support for increasing the use of police body cameras and other changes to police practices. Some from both sides also want to end “qualified immunity” to make it easier for those injured by police to claim damages in lawsuits.
Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal and Education Fund, noted the bipartisan accord around some of the issues.
“We need Congress to act,” she said. “You are required by history to meet this Civil Rights moment.”
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.