Washington (AFP) – Democratic lawmakers knelt in silent tribute to George Floyd in the US Congress on Monday before unveiling a package of sweeping police reforms in response to the killing of African Americans by law enforcement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were joined by some two dozen lawmakers in Emancipation Hall — named in honor of the slaves who helped erect the US Capitol in the 18th century.
They knelt for eight minutes and 46 seconds to mark the length of time a white police officer pinned his knee on the neck of the 46-year-old Floyd, whose May 25 death in Minneapolis unleashed protests against racial injustice across America.
The Democrats said their bill aimed to create “meaningful, structural change that safeguards every Americans’ right to safety and equal justice.”
The legislation seeks to “end police brutality, hold police accountable (and) improve transparency in policing,” a statement said.
Pelosi, who like other kneeling lawmakers was draped in a colorful Kente cloth scarf that pays homage to black Americans’ African heritage, spoke afterward of the “martyrdom of George Floyd” and the grief over black men and women killed at the hands of police.
“This movement of national anguish is being transformed into a movement of national action,” she said.
The Justice and Policing Act, introduced in both chambers of Congress, would make it easier to prosecute officers for abuse and rethink how they are recruited and trained.
Its chance of passage in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority, is highly uncertain.
Donald Trump, who is running for re-election in November, has cast himself as the law-and-order president and accuses Joe Biden, his Democratic rival for the White House, of seeking to defund police forces.
“The Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police. Sorry, I want LAW & ORDER!” he tweeted on Monday.
The former vice president has not made any public statements supporting the defunding of law enforcement.
His campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement that Biden “supports the urgent need for reform” including funding community policing programs that improve relationships between officers and residents and help avert unjustifiable deaths.
Biden, who has said he believes the nation is at “an inflection point” given the magnitude of the protests, was traveling Monday to Houston to meet Floyd’s family.
– ‘We hear you’ –
The policing legislation, introduced by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass and two black senators, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, would ban the use of choke holds and mandate the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal officers.
It mandates broad training reforms and would establish a misconduct registry to prevent fired officers moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.
“A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly trained officers who are accountable to the public,” Bass told reporters.
Lawmakers expressed solidarity with the countless Americans who have taken to the streets in protest against police brutality and racial injustice.
“Black lives matter. The protests we’ve seen in recent days are an expression of rage and one of despair,” House Democrat Steny Hoyer said.
“Today Democrats in the House and Senate are saying: ‘We see you, we hear you, we are acting.'”