George Floyd's brother, civil rights leaders and law enforcement officials testified Wednesday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on issues of racial profiling, police brutality and lost trust between police departments and the communities they serve. Several witnesses highlighted the importance of reforming police departments, and expressed support for the Justice in Policing Act, a billthis week.
The hearing comes one day after George Floyd was laid to rest in Houston, and just over two weeks since his death at the hands of sparked across the country and .
In an emotional opening statement, Philonise Floyd, George's younger brother, discussed the pain he feels over his brother's death and how he felt watching the video of his brother begging for his life.
"I'm here today to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain. Stop us from being tired," Floyd said. "George's calls for help were ignored. Please listen to the call I'm making to you now, to the calls of our family, and to the calls ringing out in the streets across the world."
He urged lawmakers on the committee to hold police officers "accountable when they do something wrong."
"If his death ends up changing the world for the better, and I think it will, then he died as he lived. It is on you to make sure his death isn't in vain," Floyd said to the assembled lawmakers.
Later in the hearing, Floyd wept as he described watching the video which showed his brother's final moments.
"That's all people talk about. Kids have to watch the video. His kids have to watch the video. It's a lot of hurt. It's a lot of pain," Floyd said.
"Justice has to be served. Those officers, they have to be convicted," Floyd continued. "His life mattered. All our lives matter. Black lives matter. I just wish I could get him back."
Floyd later said that he believed his brother had been "lynched."
"They lynched my brother. That was a murder. They lynched him," Floyd said. When asked what he wanted to see accomplished, Floyd said he believed departments should stop hiring "corrupt police officers."
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler told reporters ahead of the hearing that hearing from Floyd will "help inform what we do." In his opening statement, Nadler addressed Floyd, saying that his brother "is not just a name chanted in the street."
Ranking Member Jim Jordan told Floyd that his brother's death was "as wrong as wrong could be." However, he also condemned rioters, and said that the "vast majority" of law enforcement officers are good people and first responders.
"It is absolute insanity to defund the police," Jordan said, referring to a common refrain from some protesters responding to Floyd's death. Congressional Democrats have avoided calling for defunding the police, an idea which calls for redistributing funds that typically would go to police departments elsewhere in communities.
In her opening statement, Angela Underwood Jacobs decried violence in riots. Underwood Jacobs' brother, a police officer, was recently killed in riots in Oakland, California.
"Fear, hatred, ignorance and blind violence snatched the life of my brother, Patrick, from all of us," Underwood Jacobs said. She added that systemic injustice could not be solved with looting or violence. She called the idea of defunding the police "ridiculous," saying it was not a solution to police brutality.
After she left the hearing, Underwood Jacobs told reporters that she hoped lawmakers "saw us and heard us."
"America is saying it's time for change," Underwood Jacobs said.
Houston police chief Art Acevedo said in his opening statement that "there is no denying that changes in policing must be made," but also argued in favor of reforming police departments instead of defunding them.
Ben Crump, the attorney representing Floyd's family, called for policing reforms like mandating that all officers wear body cameras.
"Changing the behavior of police and their relationship with people of color starts at the top. We need a national standard for policing behavior built on transparency and accountability," Crump said. Crump also called for reforming qualified immunity for police officers to make it easier for them to be prosecuted in civil court.
Republicans on the committee condemned their Democratic colleagues for supporting groups that have advocated for defunding the police, and called for Democrats to work on legislation on police reform on a more bipartisan basis. Democrats on the committee largely asked witnesses about reforms they would consider to be effective. Many of the reforms mentioned appear in legislation unveiled by congressional Democrats earlier this week.
Although several witnesses denounced defunding the police, many also discussed how systemic racism affects departments. Floyd said that his brother would not have been pinned down by a police officer if he was not black. Paul Butler, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, said that too often "officers view themselves as warriors, and it's almost as if the communities they serve experience them as occupying forces."
Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, argued that reforming qualified immunity would not make it harder for police officers to do their jobs.
"The idea is obnoxious to me that somehow if you hold police accountable you tie their hands," Morial said.
Morial also appeared to respond to comments from Republican Congressman Ken Buck, who insinuated that high numbers of single-parent households could lead to a rise in crime.
"Bad family situations did not kill George Floyd," Morial said, calling that rhetoric an "insult."
On Monday, congressional Democrats unveiled a bill that includes a long list of proposals aimed at improving accountability in law enforcement. The bill does not include new funding for police departments, but nor does it call for defunding departments.for police reform under the leadership of Senator Tim Scott.
Congresswoman Karen Bass touted the "bold, transformative legislation" she proposed on Monday, saying it would hold police officers accountable. Bass said that George Floyd would be alive if the legislation was already enacted, as it would ban chokeholds. Floyd was pinned to the ground for nearly 9 minutes by a police officer with a knee to his neck.
The bill includes reforms to make it easier to prosecute police officers for misconduct in civil court, and would create a National Police Misconduct Registry. However, President Trump has expressed opposition to reforming qualified immunity.