'I'm tired of pain': George Floyd's brother implores Congress for police reforms

Rebecca Shabad and Julie Tsirkin and Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — George Floyd’s brother Philonise pleaded in an emotional and powerful statement to members of Congress on Wednesday that they pass police reforms and listen to the calls around the world to "stop the pain."

"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 looked up to your whole entire life, die, die begging for his mom," he told members of the House Judiciary Committee, describing the video footage that showed his brother's death in police custody last month.

"I'm here to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain, stop us from being tired," he said. "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 out in the streets across the world."

The hearing on police brutality and racial profiling comes as lawmakers consider a policing overhaul bill proposed by Democrats and a day after a funeral service was held in Houston for George Floyd, who died last month after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during his arrest.

Philonise said in his opening statement that he was testifying to make sure his older brother's death will 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."

"If his death ends up changing the world for the better — and I think it will, I think it has — then he died as he lived. It is on you to make sure his death isn’t in vain," he said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said in his opening statement that the nation is demanding meaningful change.

"To the activists who have been sounding the alarm for years only to be ignored or greeted with half measures, it is because of your persistence and your determination that we are here today," he said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the panel's ranking member, said George Floyd's death is a tragedy and "never should have happened," but added that he opposed the calls by some activists to defund police departments.

"The vast, vast majority of law enforcement officers are responsible, hard-working, heroic first responders," Jordan said. "They're the officers who protect the Capitol, who protect us every single day. They’re the officers who rushed into the twin towers on 9/11."

The Floyd family's lawyer, Ben Crump, was also among the dozen witnesses testifying at the hearing. He said "changing the behavior of police and their relationships with people of color starts at the top."

"We need a national standard for police and behavior built on transparency and accountability," said Crump, adding that it should be mandatory for police officers to wear body cameras. "The only reason we know what happened to George Floyd is because it was captured on video. The advent of video evidence is bringing into the light what long was hidden. This revealing what black Americans have known for a long, long time: that it is dangerous for a black person to have an encounter with a police officer."

Other witnesses include experts and advocates including Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League and a former mayor of New Orleans. Republicans have invited several witnesses, including Daniel Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who is a conservative radio host who often appears on Fox News.

Their testimony comes as the committee prepares to next week mark up the Justice and Policing Act, the policing overhaul legislation unveiled by Democrats amid protests that have swept the nation over the last two weeks since Floyd’s death.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday that Democrats aim to hold a floor vote on the measure during the week of June 22. Hoyer urged Republicans to work with Democrats on crafting the final version by proposing amendments during the committee markup.

The legislation, which Democrats say would increase police accountability and transparency, would ban chokeholds, including the kind used by a then-Minneapolis police officer in Floyd's death on May 25, as well as no-knock warrants in drug cases, as was used in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that he has put Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the Senate, in charge of leading a group to respond to the events surrounding Floyd's death. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with Scott on Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the proposal.

Scott's draft proposal is focused on collecting data on such things as use of force and conducting studies to determine best practices, but would not ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants as the Democrats' bill would. The bill would not cut police funding, but Scott has suggested police departments in some instances should get additional money tied to implementing reforms.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday dismissed Scott's developing proposal, saying on the Senate floor, “We need wholesale reform, not piecemeal reform. We cannot approach this debate by cherry-picking one or two reforms and call the job complete. It's my worry that's what my Republican colleagues intend to do.”