Chairman Nadler Statement for Oversight Hearing on "Policing Practices and Law Enforcement Accountability"
Washington, June 10, 2020
Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during an oversight hearing to examine the crisis of racial profiling, police brutality and lost trust between police departments and the communities they serve:
"We are all familiar with the terrifying words 'I can’t breathe.' They were uttered in Minneapolis by George Floyd while a police officer pinned a knee to his neck for a chilling 8 minutes and 46 seconds, taking from him the final breath of life. Six years ago, Eric Garner uttered those same fateful words, while locked in a chokehold in New York City. He, too, died at the hands of law enforcement.
"Millions of Americans now call out 'I can’t breathe' as a rallying cry in streets all across our country, demanding fundamental change in the culture of law enforcement and meaningful accountability for officers who commit misconduct. Today we answer their call.
"Our hearts ache for the loss of George Floyd and Eric Garner. They ache for Breonna Taylor, for Amadou Diallo, for Tamir Rice, for LaQuan McDonald, for Freddie Gray, for Walter Scott, and for so many other victims of police violence in all parts of America. Their shocking deaths sparked momentary outrage, but no fundamental change. And for every incident of excessive force that makes headlines, the ugly truth is that there are countless others that we never hear about.
"Every day, African Americans, and other people of color, live in fear of harassment and violence at the hands of some law enforcement officers. This is their reality. Our country’s history of racism and racially motivated violence—rooted in the original sin of slavery—continues to haunt our nation.
"And to those who do not believe it, please look at the tragic statistics. African Americans are more than twice as likely to be shot and killed by police each year. And Black men between the ages of 15 and 34 are approximately 10 times more likely to be killed by police than other Americans. This outrage is a reality we must change.
"Today, we examine the state of policing in America and we look for ways to prevent racist acts of violence by police officers, to hold accountable those who commit such acts, and strengthen trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. On Monday, I joined Karen Bass, the Chair of the Crime Subcommittee, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, in introducing the “Justice in Policing Act,” which would further that cause. The bill now has over 200 cosponsors in the House and 36 cosponsors in the Senate.
"I want to make clear at the outset that the bill is not an indictment of all police officers. We must always remember that most law enforcement officers do their jobs with dignity, selflessness, and honor, and they are deserving of our respect and gratitude for all they do to keep us safe.
"We owe a debt that can never be paid to the too many officers killed in the line of duty every year. And it has been clear that there are many officers—including some local police chiefs who marched arm in arm with their communities—who want to separate themselves from the dangerous behavior of others in the profession.
"But there are too many officers who are exceptions and who abuse their authority. And we cannot be blind to the racism and injustice that pervades far too many of our law enforcement agencies. The nation is demanding that we enact meaningful change.
"This is a systemic problem that requires a comprehensive solution.
"That is why the Justice in Policing Act takes a holistic approach that includes a variety of 'front-end' reforms to change the culture of law enforcement while also holding bad police officers accountable to separate them from those with a true ethic to protect and serve.
"Among other things, the bill would make it easier for the federal government to successfully prosecute police misconduct cases, it would ban chokeholds, end racial and religious profiling, encourage prosecutions independent from local police, and eliminate the dubious court-made doctrine of qualified immunity for law enforcement.
"At the same time, the bill encourages departments to meet a gold standard in training, hiring, de-escalation strategies, bystander duty, and use of body cameras and other best practices.
"It also creates a new grant program for community-based organizations to create local task forces on policing innovation that would reimagine public safety so that it is just and equitable for all Americans. The goal of this legislation is to achieve a 'guardian, not warrior' model of policing.
"The Justice in Policing Act is, at once, bold and transformative, to meet the moment that calls out for sweeping reform, while also taking a responsible and balanced approach to the many complicated issues associated with policing. I look forward to bringing it before our Committee in short order.
"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.
"If there is one thing I have taken away from the tragic events of the last month, it is that the nation demands and deserves meaningful change. We can and should debate the specifics, but at the end of the day, it is the responsibility and the obligation of the House Judiciary Committee to do everything in its power to help deliver that change for the American people.
"I look forward to hearing from our witnesses, who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience on the many issues we are examining today, and who will help guide us in that process.
"But first, I want to address just one witness, Philonese Floyd, the brother of George Floyd. We are all very sorry for your loss and we appreciate your being here today to discuss your brother’s life. We must remember that he is not just a cause—a name to be chanted in the streets. He was a man. He had a family. He was known as a 'gentle giant.' He had a rich life that was taken away from him far too early. And we mourn his loss.
"This is a very difficult time for our nation. We have lost more than 110,000 people to COVID-19, a toll that has fallen disproportionately on people of color. We have lost brave police officers, and other frontline workers, who risked their lives to serve their communities.
"And we have lost George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many other victims of excessive force by law enforcement. We must act to honor their memory."