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On Capitol Hill, George Floyd’s brother appeals for changes to policing

The national outcry to end racial injustice in the U.S. has expanded from protests in the streets to appeals on Capitol Hill. Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's younger brother, headlined a Wednesday hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, which is working on a bill to address police violence and racism. Lisa Desjardins reports and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest from Congress.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The national outcry to end racial injustice has expanded tonight from protests in the streets to appeals to Congress. The setting was a U.S. House hearing headlined by the younger brother of George Floyd, who died in police custody last month.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One day after burying his brother George, Philonise Floyd walked into the U.S. Capitol with a message, pleading for justice and action.

  • Philonise Floyd:

    I'm tired. I'm tired of pain, pain you feel when you watch something like that, when you watch your big brother, who you looked up to for your whole life, die, die begging for his mom.

    I'm here to ask you to make it stop.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, now working on a bill aimed at police brutality and racial profiling.

    George Floyd's death sparked nationwide protests and conversations around policing and race. Philonise Floyd was one of 12 panelists at the hearing. Another, Angela Underwood Jacobs, is also grieving. Her brother, Patrick Underwood, was shot and killed in Oakland during protests last month while he was working as a federal officer and guarding a federal building.

    She too called out racism by some, and also pointed to blind violence that must stop.

  • Angela Underwood Jacobs:

    I'm wondering, where is the outrage for a fallen officer that also happens to be African-American?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo echoed the thought that most police officers are good, but said there is urgent need for reform.

  • Art Acevedo:

    There is no denying that changes in policing must be made. We must acknowledge that law enforcement's past contains institutional racism, injustices and brutality.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But some Republican witnesses, like Darrell Scott, regularly seen at events with President Trump, were cautious.

  • Darrell Scott:

    I agree with the fact that police reform, or, better yet, police revision, should be enacted. But it has to be one that is sensitive to the stress, tension, pressure and paranoia that policing produces.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    The committee will be in order. We will now proceed under the five-minute rule with questions.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The question round, often the most heated, was largely sober and serious.

    Asked why his brother died, Floyd said, Officer Derek Chauvin, who pressed down on George Floyd's neck, knew him.

  • Philonise Floyd:

    Yes, I think it was personal, because they worked at the same place. So, for him to do something like that, it had to be premeditated.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Authorities have not yet indicated that Chauvin had a personal motive. Also at the hearing, Republicans pushed back at the idea of defunding the police.

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.:

    If you believe we should defund the police, would you please raise your hand? I didn't see anyone raise their hand to defund the police. And I certainly didn't see any of the Republican witnesses do…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Some panelists objected to how the question was asked, and said the idea of moving funding into mental health care and community programs is good.

    The setting itself was extraordinary, in an auditorium in the Capitol Visitors Center to allow for social distancing, this days after congressional Democrats introduced their police reform legislation.

    Senate Republicans are trying to outline their own plan this week, with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott leading the effort. The pressure on them is not just national. Today, it was personal from heartbroken families. Floyd pointed to how his brother died.

  • Philonise Floyd:

    You don't do that to a human being. You don't even do that to an animal. His life mattered. All our lives matter. Black lives matter.

  • Angela Underwood Jacobs:

    I truly hope you take your positions, your offices so seriously that you want to go back and really work together and collaborate, because, if you can't get it right, there's no hope for the rest of us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now.

    Lisa, what a hearing.

    So, you reported there about how — the Democrats having made public their legislation, the proposed legislation on police reform. Tell us a little more about what the Republicans are looking at.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, right now, the Republicans don't have a firm outline that they have made public.

    But we know, behind closed doors, they are talking about some ideas. They seem to be hovering over a few common themes, at least the Senate Republicans. Let's look at those in a graphic here, Judy.

    First of all, one of those, blocking choke holds, we know that's something Democrats want to do as well. Also, Republicans are looking at a registry of deaths and mistreatment of police. That's a tricky topic for them, because they feel that — some of them feel states should be governing that, but that is on the tape table for them.

    Also, anti-lynching legislation, that is legislation that actually has been blocked by a Republican up until now, Rand Paul, but he seems to be, perhaps, working with this group to find a way that he can get on board.

    Also, the idea of a national commission on criminal justice, Judy, that idea from Republicans would be similar to the 9/11 Commission in scope. It could take several months, but come up with recommendations.

    But, Judy, I want to talk about what so far doesn't seem to be in their legislation, but is a heated debate among Republicans, a couple of ideas, particularly about what's called police qualified immunity, which is basically courtroom decisions that have held that police have a kind of immunity from being prosecuted in many cases.

    Now, Republicans are talking about whether to include this in their bill or not. They're divided. Right now, it's not in their bill. And then one other thing. The concept of no-knock warrants for drug cases, that is something that could end up in this Republican proposal as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, you have mentioned a few names of Republicans involved.

    Who else — what other Republicans is it known are working on this? And how much urgency do they feel? How quickly do you think we could see something?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, I think it's really important to talk about exactly who is in the room making the decisions on this.

    And, as we reported, it's led by Tim Scott. And if you look at the others who are on this so-called task force, here are those names. It is Tim Scott's fellow South Carolinian Lindsey Graham. He is there I think because he is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also John Cornyn of Texas, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and James Lankford of Oklahoma.

    These are all people that are thought to have had spent time on these issues before, including past criminal — recent criminal justice reform.

    Judy, I got to say the urgency and the timing is a bit of a head-scratcher. The House of Representatives, the Democrats, are taking their bill to committee next week. They hope to have a floor vote the following week. So, the House is on a two-week trajectory to pass major criminal justice reform.

    The Senate, it is not clear what their time frame is yet. They hope to, again, have an outline, maybe even legislative language, this week, but, often, things can take longer in the Senate than in the House. So we're going to have to see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure.

    And, Lisa, this has been such a wrenching couple of weeks across the country for the American people, we know protests in, what, 700 American cities.

    I want to ask you, what's the feeling there on the Hill? Do you — is that coming across when you talk to members? What's the sense of urgency, or not, there?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think it's really changed across this week, Judy.

    Talking to senators on Monday, I didn't feel that the majority of them, Republicans mostly who I spoke with, had a sense of urgency. Some did, like Lisa Murkowski, seemed to be really taking this in and spending a great deal of time trying to figure out where to go.

    Others didn't have that urgency. I think they do now. I think that's changing. Now, does that mean they can come up with a deal? I don't know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Lisa, a bit of news coming from the Capitol late today having to do with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Confederate statues?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. This is a fascinating story.

    Judy, the speaker of the House has written a letter to the group overseeing statues in the Capitol, asking that 11 statues of Confederates — these are men who served in the Confederacy — be removed from the Capitol.

    These particular statues have been selected by states. They're part of the National Statuary Hall Collection. Each state selects two people. Most of these statues, Judy, were selected in the beginning of the 20th century. They have been there a long time. But these, again, are Confederates.

    They include the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, the vice president of the confederacy, Robert E. Lee. These are men whose statues are in the U.S. Capitol, have been for a long time. The House speaker says it's time to remove these statues.

    And that's kind of a line that no one has crossed before, until now. They have only put these statues in sort of less prominent locations.

    One other thing, Judy, this does not, however, include some who were pro-slavery before the Confederacy like John C. Calhoun, who is depicted in the Capitol four times, including twice outside the Senate chamber. That discussion, I think, will continue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of people don't realize that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins reporting on what's happened at the Capitol.

    Lisa, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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