’God is working through you,’ Gaetz tells brother of George Floyd
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., struck a bipartisan tone — and called the brother of George Floyd an instrument of God — during a House Judiciary Committee hearing this week on racial profiling and police brutality.
But Gaetz also was critical at the Wednesday hearing of calls from the left side of the political spectrum to “defund the police,” a movement that at its extreme would all but eliminate law-enforcement departments, but also is understood as shorthand for giving police new tools for dealing with members of the public with whom they come in contact.
Among the witnesses who testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday was Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, who died May 25 at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, even after he became unresponsive. George Floyd had been taken into custody for allegedly attempting to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.
In his opening statement, Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s younger brother, told House Judiciary Committee members including Gaetz, “I have to be the strong one now, because George is gone ... to do what (George) always would have done, to take care of the family and others.”
“Maybe by speaking with you today,” Floyd contnued, “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 ... .”
Then, urging the committee to action, Floyd recounted how it felt to watch his brother die.
“I can’t tell you the kind of pain you feel when you watch something like that,” he said. “... I’m tired of pain. I’m here to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain, Stop us from being tired. ... Honor George, and make the necessary changes that make law enforcement the solution, and not the problem.”
Later in the hearing, when it was his time to address the witnesses, Gaetz said, “Mr. Floyd, again, I do appreciate your calls (for change). ... ”(N)ot only today, but in the direct aftermath of your brother’s killing — you showed grace and care for your fellow Americans. ... I do believe God is working through you to try to call us together.“
Gaetz also used his time to promise a bipartisan approach to legislation aimed at addressing problems associated with the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law-enforcement personnel.
The Justice in Policing Act, sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, is a piece of sweeping reform legislation that, broadly, would “hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies,” according to language in the bill.
More specifically, the 135-page legislative proposal would make it easier to file lawsuits against police departments for alleged civil rights violations, would track police misconduct on a nationwide basis to keep officers fired from one jurisdiction from getting a job in another jurisdiction, would ban federal law-enforcement personnel from using chokeholds and neckholds and would make lynching a federal hate crime.
Addressing Bass at Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Gaetz didn’t give the proposal a ringing endorsement, but did say, “I think we can fine-tune elements (of the proposal) to ensure that we don’t defund the police, that we don’t make our communities less safe.”
“I do think there is not a legitimate defense of chokeholds or lynching or bad cops that get shuttled around,” Gaetz also told Bass, adding that Bass “will be able to count on Republican cooperation as we hone these ideas and hopefully pass them and get them to the president’s desk.”
But also at Wednesday’s hearing, Gaetz took aim at calls for turning police into something other than law-enforcement personnel. Addressing a Twitter post from a group called Black Visions Minnesota that called for putting therapists and medical personnel on the streets in lieu of police, Gaetz asked one of Wednesday’s witnesses, former U.S. Secret Service agent and current conservative political commentator Dan Bongino, for comment.
“I’m quite unclear how a medic is going to help with an armed subject who is assaulting his wife in a domestic violence situation or elsewhere,” Bongino said. “I’m not sure how that’s going to be of any value.”