Silicon Valley congressional leaders tackle racism in law enforcement
Rep. Zoe Lofgren is pictured during a news conference on Capitol Hill in this file photo.

    During a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing, George Floyd’s younger brother implored representatives to enact law enforcement reforms that will protect minorities from police brutality.

    “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 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,” said Philonise Floyd.

    George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. His death has sparked international outcry and ongoing protests.

    Wednesday’s hearing was convened to discuss the Justice in Policing Act, legislation spearheaded by the Congressional Black Caucus to address systemic racism in law enforcement. The committee heard testimonies from a mix of lawyers, social justice activists and law enforcement officers.

    San Jose Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who serves on the judiciary committee, said she was grateful to be part of the effort to improve police practices.

    “African Americans have been mistreated in many cases in many communities by law enforcement,” she said. “…I think (the protests for George Floyd) have opened the eyes of Americans across the United States about the need for reform.”

    Among the changes being discussed: Banning chokeholds, demilitarizing local law enforcement, creating a nationwide police misconduct registry and establishing a national standard for when lethal force can be used.

    “People of all backgrounds, genders and races have come together to demand change,” Philonise Floyd told the lawmakers. “Honor them and honor George and make the necessary changes that make law enforcement the solution and not the problem.”

    Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna, who began authoring police accountability measures a year before Floyd was killed, said this week that more police reform is needed.

    Khanna and Missouri Congressman Lacy Clay introduced the Police Exercising Absolute Care for Everyone Act last August. The PEACE Act, which bans police from using deadly force unless specific conditions are met and classifies chokeholds as deadly force, has now been incorporated into the Justice in Policing Act.

    “Police officers are tasked with preventing, not inciting, violence in our communities,” Khanna states in a recent release. “The PEACE Act is an essential step toward building a culture of community safety that prioritizes de-escalation and communication over lethal tactics. Deadly force should never be the first resort for someone overseeing public safety.”

    Now, California Sen. Kamala Harris plans to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

    “George Floyd’s murder is not an isolated incident, but the result of systemic racism and racial bias that has spanned our country’s history,” Harris said in a statement. “We are in a moment of reckoning on the issue of policing and use of force, and we are in dire need of reform.”

    According to the lawmakers, California police departments have some of the highest rates of killings in the nation. Half the people killed by officers between 2016 and 2017 were unarmed.

    The PEACE Act builds on another California law, AB 392, which directs police to use deadly force only when necessary, but goes further by requiring certain conditions are met, including exhausting all other options before using force.

    Angela Underwood Jacobs also testified Wednesday on behalf of her brother, David Patrick Underwood, a black federal security guard who was killed by a gunman while guarding a U.S. courthouse in Oakland, during protests over George Floyd’s death.

    Underwood Jacobs, a former Republican candidate for Congress, praised her brother’s service and questioned why there wasn’t greater outrage for a fallen officer. She also spoke out against defunding the police, one of the more drastic options being discussed in some communities nationwide.

    “It is a ridiculous solution to proclaim that defunding police departments is a solution to police brutality and discrimination,” she said, adding that she believed investing in education, affordable housing, and job creation are the best ways to fix racial disparities.

    Several California-based organizations previously endorsed the PEACE Act, including Families United 4 Justice, the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, and the California Association of Student Councils.

    Cephus Johnson, an executive board member with Families United 4 Justice, said the last few weeks have been painful for those who have lost loved ones to police violence. Johnson’s nephew, Oscar Grant, was fatally shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer in 2009.

    “There is no horror compared to witnessing your loved one being murdered in front of your eyes on a video camera,” he said. “For me to see what happened to George Floyd, it took me right back to my nephew.”

    Johnson said watching the hearing on Wednesday gave him hope that the nation is finally moving in the right direction. But he urged those who are concerned about police accountability and transparency to remain committed to the cause.

    “Just because we got this on the table does not mean the work stops—it’s really just beginning.”

    Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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