WASHINGTON (CN) — Philonise Floyd challenged House Judiciary committee members Wednesday to change and reform policing in America for his brother George — the 46-year-old black man asphyxiated on Memorial Day under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
Appearing before the committee barely 24 hours after a Houston ceremony where the brother he called Perry was buried in a golden casket, beside their mother, Philonise Floyd urged lawmakers to “do the right thing” and to “stop the pain” for his family and other victims of police violence.
“I can’t tell you the kind of pain that 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. “I’m here to ask you to make it stop.”
Minneapolis police were said to have been arresting George Floyd on May 25 in connection to a counterfeit $20 bill. Following two weeks of national protests against police brutality that the killing galvanized in more than 140 American cities, Philonise Floyd was joined Wednesday at Congress by 11 other witnesses with wide-ranging experience in civil rights advocacy and law enforcement.
“George wasn’t hurting anyone that day,” the brother testified. “He didn’t deserve to die over $20. I’m asking you: Is that what a black man is worth? $20? This is 2020. Enough is enough.”
Responding to the national outcry, House Democrats on Monday introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which includes multiple provisions to increase police liability. If passed, the bill will require state and local cops to complete racial bias training, create a national police misconduct registry and reform qualified immunity for officers, among a myriad of other initiatives.
For Philonise Floyd, whose facemask to protect against the novel coronavirus features an embroidered portrait of his brother, it was the duty of lawmakers to pass legislation that garnered real reform — ensuring George Floyd did not die in vain.
“The people elected you to speak for them, to make positive change,” he said. “George’s name means something. You have the opportunity here to make your names mean something, too.”
A handful of lawmakers yielded speaking time Wednesday to Philonise Floyd and Angela Underwood Jacobs — an African-American widow of a police officer killed in the line of duty — who both gave raw and sometimes tearful testimony.
California Representative Eric Swalwell asked Philonise Floyd what he would like to see change in national policing, to which the witness responded, “I want them to stop hiring corrupt police officers.”
“You just can’t use the badge to be able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it,” Philonise Floyd said. “You’re supposed to serve, and you’re supposed to protect. I didn’t see anybody protecting and serving that day when my brother was on his chest, hands behind his back, ‘Please, please, I can’t breathe.’ A grown man, 46 years of age, crying for his mom. They lynched my brother. That was a modern-day lynching in broad daylight.”
California Representative Karen Bass, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, briefly discussed qualified immunity for law enforcement officers and the importance of redefining that exemption from wrongdoing for the police — a sticking point between Democrats and Republicans. As it stands, the doctrine prevents officials like police officers, from being sued for on-the-job misconduct.
When asked by Bass about this immunity, Ben Crump — an attorney for the Floyd family — said courts often interpret the provision to give cops absolute impunity from their actions. In Crump’s view, courts had unconstitutionally given police blanket protections, “especially when it comes to black Americans being killed by police.”
“That’s why nobody is ever held accountable when you think about that long list of Black Lives Matter names that we often recite to make sure people know their lives matter,” Crump said. “But if there is no accountability Congresswoman Bass, it will keep happening. And we pray that George Floyd is the last one, but if this great body doesn’t act, it’s going to happen again, and I predict it’s going to happen within the next 30 days.”
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, said most of her recommendations for the committee to reform police were included in a 15-page letter the advocacy group sent to Congress on June 1.
Co-signed by more than 400 other civil rights organizations, the letter outlined eight specific recommendations for Congress to improve national policing, including prohibiting the use of no-knock warrants, eliminating federal programs that provide military equipment to police and eliminating the use of neck holds, chokeholds and other uses of force.
“In policing and in many other areas, the current administration has sadly and drastically retreated from using the tools it has to enforce civil rights laws,” Gupta testified. “But Congress has the power to bring about transformative policing that benefits communities and officers alike.”
The committee also heard from Daniel Bongino, a former U.S. Secret Service member and host of an eponymous conservative radio program.
New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries, in a line of questioning to Bongino, dug into how black Americans’ interactions with the police often differ from those of white people — noting that Dylan Roof, responsible for the death of nine parishioners in South Carolina in 2016, was given fast food after his arrest before he was placed in cell.
Bongino asked the Democrat why he was focused on the race of these individuals, to which Jeffries responded, “because black lives matter, sir.”
“Yeah, all lives matter, sir, every single life matters,” Bongino responded.
Georgetown Law professor Paul Butler testified that it was commonplace for police to, “as policy, treat African Americans with contempt.”
Disproportionate numbers of black and Hispanic Americans bore the brunt of this force, Butler said.
“Black people are approximately 20% of the population of Minneapolis but approximately 60% of the people who cops use violence against,” Butler testified. “According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, during traffic stops, African Americans are three times more likely than white people to be threatened or subjected to force.”
Philonise Floyd testified that, while he never got a chance to say goodbye to his older brother, he knew his brother was watching over him with pride.
“Perry, look at what you did, big brother,” he said. “You’re changing the world. Thank you for everything. For taking care of us when you were on Earth and for taking care of us all now. I hope you found mama and can rest in peace and power.”