Over the course of a long day, a large panel was questioned by the House Judiciary committee on the subject of police brutality and racial profiling. There were a number of standout statements from the representatives on hand, especially Rep. Karen Bass of California, who made clear the real contents of the proposed legislation, and Eric Swallwell, also representing California, who reminded the room of just how unlikely it was that George Floyd’s death would have been identified as a murder if not for the cameras on hand. By far the most emotional moments of the day came from the opening statement of Philonise Floyd, and for his heartbreaking comments in response to questions.
On the other side of the aisle, the most disgusting moments of the day came from Republicans who went to pro-police-violence podcaster and failed Republican candidate Dan Bongino to present a vision of the hellscape that would result if police were required to be more concerned about public safety. That peaked when Republican Rep. Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania declared that “the murder of George Floyd means we should invest more in police departments.”
As of 4 PM ET, the number of times violent racist cops had been described as “a few bad apples” stood at 15. The number of times that Republicans had pretended that the bill before Congress—a collection of reforms that have widespread support, even from Republicans—would actually fire every police officer in the nation and leave the nation open to “lawless chaos” … was beyond counting.
Starting with Jim Jordan’s opening remarks, and continuing through—all day, really—Republicans kept up the pretense that Democrats were actually proposing that America be completely stripped of any law enforcement. They also tossed in a few comments on opening borders, just for the hell of it. As expected, Bongino became the go-to witness whenever Republicans needed an outrageous statement. Yes, dammit, touching a dime of the police budget is going to kill you. Also there was a section in which Bongino defended the police by explaining how, when he was in the NYPD, another officer saved him from being killed “by an ironing board.” Which … how would that happen?
Again and again the Republicans demonstrated that they think they have a political winner in going after the words “defund” or “abolish” or “dismantle” when preceding the word “police.” Easily two-thirds of all Republican statements either consisted of simply hitting this point, or of handing off to Bongino so he could flip through his index cards of incredible things police have done to produce more evidence that taking a dollar from the cops would results in “thousands of Black and brown” deaths. Lots of funerals. He said this with George Floyd’s brother sitting two desks over.
Reversely, Republicans also split their time attacking every instance of police violence as a result of police unions, and every police union as being “friends of Democrats.” And yes, hero cops rushing into the buildings on 9/11 came up at least four times.
On the other hand, Democrats attempted to focus on the reforms that are actually in the bill. Many of these reforms, like nationally outlawing chokeholds, are nice statements … but really don’t represent much if any progress. After all, the NYPD had outlawed these holds when Eric Garner was choked to death, and it still didn’t result in so much as a charge against his murderer. Other parts of the legislation, like a national registry of bad cops, also seem like a good idea, but are likely to create perverse incentives—like every other national registry. It also won’t help so long as departments are free to ignore good hiring practices.
The best ideas came in discussion of professionalizing police, requiring more up from education and training, requiring ongoing training, requiring elimination of “warrior” training, and getting rid of military hardware and uniforms. Surprisingly, at least two Republican representatives expressed their support for many of these ideas, including removing battlefield weapons from the nation’s streets and eliminating the (very unlimited) limited immunity currently enjoyed by police.
But if Reschenthaler’s claim that the answer to the murder of George Floyd was “more police” seemed tooth-grindingly awful, he was matched earlier in the day by Republican representative Ken Buck of Colorado. After giving perfunctory acknowledgement that there was a problem, Buck was determined to talk about “the real” problem. That problem being … single-parent families. That comment from Buck generated one of the best moments of the day in the response from Urban League president Marc Morial.
Throughout the day, Morial’s statements were fantastic both in explaining the truth behind “defunding the police” and in reminding the congress of the history behind today’s events and actions,
Morial also reminded those present that Congress had been trying to make lynching a crime since 1920. Since then, it’s been held up in the Senate 200 times—including right now when Republican Rand Paul continues to block lynching as a federal crime.
Another star moment of the hearings: When Rep. Hakeem Jeffries decided to take his questions straight to Bongino. That was when the Republican star witness became upset that questions about police violence were getting “racial.”