WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives took up the issues of police violence and racial injustice in America on Wednesday in the first congressional hearing since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests around the world, with Floyd’s brother due to testify.
“Justice for George,” Floyd’s 42-year-old brother Philonise Floyd told reporters on his way into the hearing venue.
George Floyd’s death on May 25 after a policeman knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes was the latest in a string of killings of African-American men and women by police that have sparked anger on America’s streets and fresh calls for reforms here
“The nation demands and deserves meaningful change,” House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler said at the start of the hearing in the U.S. Capitol.
“We must remember that he is not just a cause, a name to be chanted in the streets. He was a man. He had a family. He was known as a gentle giant. He had a rich life that was taken from him far too early and we mourn his loss,” Nadler said.
Lawmakers were expected to hear urgent pleas from civil rights advocates for strong reforms and more funding for social services in minority communities, as well as vocal support for police from three witnesses called by Republicans. Some witnesses and lawmakers were set to participate by video link to ensure social distancing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic
The Judiciary panel is preparing to shepherd a sweeping Democratic package of legislation aimed at combating police violence and racial injustice, to the House floor by July 4, and is expected to hold further hearings next week to prepare the bill for a full House vote.
The Fraternal Order of Police has welcomed the bill’s introduction, saying in a statement that further discussions could produce a law capable of having a positive impact on law enforcement and policing.
Senate Republicans are working on rival legislation, due to be released on Friday, which touches on many of the same areas but emphasizes the collection of data rather than changes in laws and policies in key areas.
The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its own hearing next Tuesday.
Wednesday’s witnesses include NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill and Pastor Darrell Scott, a member of Republican President Donald Trump’s National Diversity Coalition.
The hearing also provided a platform for House Republicans, who have responded to protests by underscoring their support for police and accusing Democrats of wanting to cut off police funding, which top Democrats oppose.
“Where you demonize the police, they stop engaging with the community. If we stand with the police, it will be better for all Americans,” Representative Matt Gaetz, a House Judiciary Republican, tweeted on Tuesday.
Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Will Dunham