WASHINGTON - Philonise Floyd challenged Congress on Wednesday to “stop the pain" so that his brother George wouldn't be just "another name” on a growing list of those killed during interactions with police.
Floyd's appearance before a House hearing came a day after funeral services for his bother, the 46-year-old Minnesota man whose death has become a worldwide symbol in demonstrations over calls for changes to police practices and an end to racial prejudices.
“I’m here today to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain,” Philonise Floyd told the silenced hearing room.
Choking back tears, he said he wants to make sure that his brother, whom he called “Perry,” is “more than another face on a t-shirt. More than another name on a list that won’t stop growing.”
Floyd directly challenged lawmakers to step up. "The people marching in the streets are telling you enough is enough. Be the leaders that this country, this world, needs. Do the right thing.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler gaveled in the session as Democrats review the Justice in Policing Act, a far-ranging package of proposals amid a national debate on policing and racial inequity in the United States.
Lawmakers will also hear testimony from civil rights and law enforcement leaders at the congressional hearing on proposed changes to police practices and accountability after the Minnesota man’s death in police custody and the worldwide protests that followed.
“Today we answer their call,” Nadler said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi watched from the hearing audience and the GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy joined on the dais.
Republicans are criticizing activists who want to “defund the police” -- a catch-all term for re-imagining law enforcement, but one that President Donald Trump and his allies have seized on to portray Democrats as extreme as GOP lawmakers rush to come up with their own proposals.
“The American people understand that it’s time for a real discussion," said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the panel. But he said what they also understand is that “it is pure insanity to defund the police.”
For two hours, witnesses described what one called a “lynching” over what happened to Floyd on May 25, and others placed his death alongside those of other black Americans that have created a tally becoming difficult for lawmakers in Congress to ignore.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is leading the legislative effort, said the proposed changes reflect a nation coming to grips with a history of racial injustice.
“This is about the kind of America we all want to see,” said Bass.
The brother’s testimony captivated the room as he recounted what he saw in the widely viewed video as an officer pressed a knee into George Floyd's neck while other police stood by. The one officer is now charged with murder, and three others also face charges.
“He didn’t fight back. He listened to the officers. He called them ‘sir,’” said Philonise Floyd.
“He still called them ‘sir’ as he begged for his life."
Within the brother’s wrenching testimony were many of the core issues being debated as part of the police overhaul. Those include questions about whether it's appropriate to have police officers respond to minor offenses -- Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighborhood market -- and the use of force to detain suspects.
Philonise Floyd said, “I am asking you, is that what a black man’s life is worth? Twenty dollars?”
"This is 2020. Enough is enough.”
Millions have spilled onto city streets in the U.S. and abroad to protest the death, many embracing the “Black Lives Matter” movement that was launched after the 2014 death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri. The current demonstrations have marked a more diverse, mainstream moment.
“I want America to know, we hear you,” said Art Acevedo, the police chief in Houston and president of the Major City Chiefs Association.
The proposed changes in the Democrats' legislation don't go as far as some activists want to defund the police or dismantle departments by shifting law enforcement resources into social work and other community services. It does, however, make available grant money for states to reimagine ways of policing.
Rev. Darrell Scott, who is part of Trump's national diversity coalition, blasted activists' push to dismantle police departments as "one of the most unwise, irresponsible proposals” ever.
Scott noted he, like many black men, has been pulled over by police for “driving while black,” as he put it.
“I could very easily have been George Floyd,” he testified. “However, I do not recommend throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”
The committee also heard from Angela Underwood Jacobs, the sister of a law enforcement officer who was shot and killed while he was guarding a federal courthouse in California during the protests that followed Floyd’s death. Dave Patrick Underwood, who was black, was a contracted security officer employed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service.
Underwood Jacobs, a former Republican candidate for Congress, called for justice for Floyd and also for her brother. She said the idea of defunding the police was “ridiculous.”
Still, as lawmakers in both the House and Senate now consider legislation it is clear there is bipartisan support in Congress for several aspects of the proposed changes.
Both Democrats and Republicans have called for a national registry of use-of-force incidents, so police officers cannot transfer between departments without public awareness of their records.
There is also bipartisan support for increasing the use of police body cameras and other changes to police practices. Some from both sides also want to end “qualified immunity” to make it easier for those injured by police to claim damages in lawsuits.
Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal and Education Fund, noted the bipartisan accord around some of the issues.
“We need Congress to act,” she said. “You are required by history to meet this Civil Rights moment.”
Here is the text of Philonese Floyd's prepared congressional testimony:
Chairman Jerrold Nadler and members of the Committee:
Thank you for the invitation to be here today to talk about my big brother, George. The world knows him as George, but I called him Perry. Yesterday, we laid him to rest. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I’m the big brother now. So it’s my job to comfort my brothers and sisters, Perry’s kids, and everyone who loved him. And that’s a lot of people. I have to be the strong one now, because George is gone.
And me being the big brother now is why I’m here today. To do what Perry always would have done –- to take care of the family and others. I couldn’t take care of George that day he was killed, but maybe by speaking with you today, I can make sure that his death would not be in vain. To make sure that he is more than another face on a T-shirt. More than another name on a list that won’t stop growing.
George always made sacrifices for our family. And he made sacrifices for complete strangers. He gave the little that he had to help others. He was our gentle giant. I was reminded of that when I watched the video of his murder. He called all of the officers ‘sir.’ He was mild mannered; he didn’t fight back. He listened to all the officers. The men who took his life, who suffocated him for eight minutes and 46 seconds –- he still called them ‘sir’ as he begged for his life.
I can’t tell you the kind of pain you feel when you watch something like that. When you watch your big brother, who you’ve looked up to your whole entire life, die? Die begging for his mom?
I’m tired! I’m tired of pain, the pain you feel when you watch something like that. When you watch your big brother, who you’ve looked up to for your whole life, die? Die begging for his mom? I’m here today to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain. Stop us from being tired.
George called for help and he was ignored. Please listen to the calls I’m making to you now. To the calls of our family and the calls ringing out in the streets across the world. People of all backgrounds, genders and races have come together to demand change. Honor them, honor George, and make the necessary changes that make law enforcement the solution -– and not the problem. Hold them accountable when they do something wrong. Teach them what it means to treat people with empathy and respect. Teach them what necessary force is. Teach them that deadly force should be used rarely and only when life is at risk.
George wasn’t hurting anyone that day. He didn’t deserve to die over twenty dollars. I am asking you, is that what a black man is worth? Twenty dollars? This is 2020. Enough is enough. The people marching in the streets are telling you enough is enough. By the leaders — that our country, the world needs the right thing.
The people elected you to speak for them, to make positive change. George’s name means something. You have the opportunity here today to make your names mean something, too.
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 is not in vain. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to Perry while he was here. I was robbed of that.
But I know he’s looking down on us now. Perry, look up at what you did, big brother. You changed the world. Thank you for everything. For taking care of us when on Earth, for taking care of us now. I hope you found mama and you can rest in peace with power. Thank you.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.