George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody

A portrait of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody, is seen during a protest against his death, in New York City, New York, U.S. Courtesy: Reuters

The US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee held its first formal proceedings to examine issues underlying weeks of US civil unrest as it consider sweeping reform legislation.

A US congressional panel confronting racial injustice and police violence on Wednesday heard an impassioned plea from a brother of George Floyd not to let his death in Minneapolis police custody to have been in vain, lamenting that he “didn’t deserve to die over $20.”

More than two weeks after George Floyd died when a Minneapolis police knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee held its first formal proceedings to examine issues underlying weeks of U.S. civil unrest as it consider sweeping reform legislation.

Floyd, a Houston native who had worked security at nightclubs, was unarmed when taken into custody outside a corner market where an employee had reported that a man matching his description tried to pay for cigarettes with a counterfeit bill.

“George wasn’t hurting anyone that day. He didn’t deserve to die over $20. I’m asking you, is that what a black man’s worth? $20? This is 2020. Enough is enough,” Philonise Floyd, 42, of Missouri City, Texas, near Houston, told the lawmakers. “It is on you to make sure his death is not in vain.”

He buried his brother on Tuesday and broke down at the witness table while describing how they had not been able to say goodbye.

“I’m here to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain,” Floyd testified. “George called for help and he was ignored. Please listen to the call I’m making to you now, to the calls of our family and the calls ringing on the streets of all the world.”

The emotionally charged hearing had lawmakers and witnesses expressing sorrow over Floyd’s May 25 death, the latest in a long string of killings of African-American men and women by police that have sparked anger on America’s streets and fresh calls for reforms.

But the hearing also highlighted divisions in Congress and the country between those advocating sweeping changes to policing practices and those defending the work of law enforcement and blaming any problems on, as one Republican lawmaker put it, a “few bad apples.”

It was unclear whether lawmakers would put aside their differences and pass legislation, or whether President Donald Trump would cooperate.

“Justice for George,” Philonise Floyd told reporters on his way into the hearing venue.

The Judiciary Committee is preparing to shepherd a broad 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.

“While we hold up human rights in the world, we obviously have to hold them up in our country,” said Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which crafted the legislation.

Representative Jim Jordan, the committee’s top Republican, said “the American people understand it’s time for a real discussion, real debate, real solutions about police treatment of African-Americans.” He also praised Trump’s efforts in response to Floyd’s death and subsequent protests. The Republican president called for a militarized response to the protests and touted “law and order.”

Lawmakers heard urgent pleas from civil rights advocates for strong reforms and more funding for social services, as well as vocal support for police from three witnesses called by Republicans. Some witnesses and lawmakers participated by video link to ensure social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Fraternal Order of Police, a union organization, has welcomed the reform 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 that emphasizes the collection of data rather than changes in laws and policies.

The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its own hearing next Tuesday.

Source: IANS