Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 7120, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020:
"Last week, George Floyd’s brother, Philonise, sat in this room and he told us of the pain he felt watching the video of his brother being killed by a Minneapolis police officer. He gave voice to the pain that all of us have felt over the last few weeks. He also spoke to the anger of knowing that George Floyd was only the latest in a much-too-long list of victims of police brutality—disproportionately people of color. He spoke to the frustration that, time and again, in the face of overwhelming evidence that dramatic reform is needed, Congress has done very little.
"Mr. Floyd charged us with making sure that his brother’s death would not be in vain, and he pleaded with us to turn this pain and anger that we all feel into meaningful change. His words echoed the voices of millions of Americans who have taken to the streets in the last few weeks to demand justice and to demand action.
"Today we answer their call.
"We value and respect the many brave and honorable police officers who put their lives on the line every day to protect us and our communities. Those of us who were here in 1998 will never forget the courageous actions and ultimate sacrifice that Capitol Police Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson made in this building while protecting others. We owe them, and the other officers killed in the line of duty each year, a debt that we can never repay. And that includes Officer Patrick Underwood, who was shot and killed in the line of duty several weeks ago.
"But we must acknowledge that too many law enforcement officers do not uphold the ethic of protecting and serving their community. Instead, the reality for too many Americans, especially many African Americans, is that police officers are perceived as a threat to their liberties, to their dignity, and—too often—to their safety.
"This is not a new problem. Centuries of systemic and structural racism has infected all of our institutions. We see it in the rates of COVID deaths, in our system of mass incarceration, and in the vast chasm of economic inequality—all of which fall disproportionately on the backs of African Americans—and we see it in the harassment and excessive force that people of color routinely face by too many of our police officers.
"An unmistakable message has been sent to African Americans in this country: that they are second class citizens, and that their lives are somehow of less value. Well, let me state—clearly and unequivocally—that Black Lives Matter. George Floyd mattered. Breonna Taylor mattered. Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and LaQuan McDonald mattered. Rayshard Brooks mattered. And the countless other people who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement mattered.
"For far too long, pleas for justice and reform have fallen on deaf ears in Congress. But that changes today.
"The Justice in Policing Act would finally allow for meaningful accountability in cases of police misconduct and it would begin the process of reimagining policing in the 21st Century. This legislation, which currently has 227 cosponsors in the House and 36 cosponsors in the Senate, makes it easier for the federal government to successfully prosecute police misconduct cases, bans chokeholds, ends racial and religious profiling, encourages prosecutions independent from local police, and eliminates the dubious court-made doctrine of qualified immunity in civil rights lawsuits against law enforcement officers.
"At the same time, it addresses systemic racism and works to prevent police violence and bias through a series of 'front-end' approaches aimed at encouraging departments to meet a gold standard in training, hiring, de-escalation strategies, bystander duty, and use of body cameras and other best practices. The goal of this legislation is to achieve a 'guardian, not warrior' model of policing.
"The bill also collects and makes public data on a number of key policing matters, including a first-ever national database on police-misconduct incidents to prevent the movement of dangerous officers from department to department, it ends no-knock warrants and the militarization of local policing, and it specifies that lynching is a federal hate crime.
"The bill does all of this by using no new federal funds for police departments, except where constitutionally mandated for data collection, and it conditions all repurposed, existing funding for the support of these programs.
"It also creates a new grant program for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces on policing innovation to reimagine how public safety could work in a truly equitable and just way in each community.
"I want to thank the Gentlelady from California, Ms. Bass, the Chair of the Crime Subcommittee and the sponsor of this legislation, for her tremendous work in crafting a bill that 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. In addition, I want to thank the many Members of this Committee who have worked on and introduced legislation that is included in the legislation before us today.
"I also want to thank the activists who are leading protests across the country. It is because of you that we are here today, considering the most significant reforms to policing in a generation. It is because of your energy, your determination, and your demands for justice that the nation has awakened to the need for action.
"To the families of those who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement: everyone in this room mourns with you. But, today, we will offer more than just sympathy. Today we are proposing meaningful change. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Pledges to study the problem are not enough. Half-measures are not enough.
"To the Members of this Committee, the Justice in Policing Act is our opportunity to show the world that we are listening and that we will respond with real and lasting reforms. We must not let this moment slip away.
"If we find ourselves here again, listening to the heartbreaking testimony of another grieving family member, wondering why we did not act when we had the chance, it will be a stain on our legacy. We must not let that happen.
"I urge all of my colleagues to support this vital legislation."