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Congress may need time to act on police brutality legislation

WASHINGTON — Despite the angry denunciations of brutal police tactics and racism that led to weekend riots, it may take time for Congress to react with legislation to curb the violence.

House and Senate committee hearings are being planned to investigate the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died in the custody of police in Minneapolis.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is calling for a Justice Department investigation into recent deaths of African Americans by police and state law enforcement agencies.

“The deaths of unarmed black men and women in law enforcement custody must end now,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., a past synagogue president who has championed legislation against hate crimes and discrimination. “The use of excessive force by officers sworn to serve and protect us must stop.”

The death of Floyd during an arrest by Minneapolis police was captured on video, with Floyd pleading with an officer to remove a knee that had his neck and face pinned to the ground. Other officers stood nearby.

“We all saw the video,” said Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev. “Prosecute every officer involved.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., the only Silver State congressional member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “I’m tired of hearing news of another unarmed black man being killed at the hands of the police.”

“George Floyd, and so many others like him, should be alive today,” Horsford said.

Tensions high

The widely broadcast video triggered angry protests in cities large and small, from coast to coast, and outside the White House in Washington.

Looting and arson followed the peaceful protests.

President Donald Trump blamed the lawlessness on outside agitators, while Republican and Democratic leaders urged Trump to tone down rhetoric that could inflame tension.

Trump told the nation’s governors in a teleconference call on Monday that they were “weak” and must be more forceful, calling in the National Guard to restore order.

Those sentiments were not echoed by other congressional leaders.

“Our nation is hurting and we can only truly heal if we do it together,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., whose congressional district includes Las Vegas where police confronted protesters over the weekend.

Protests and rioting also erupted in Reno.

Titus said “those of us in positions of power shouldn’t need constant reminders that black lives matter.”

“The peaceful demonstrations are inspiring,” Titus said. “The violence that is endangering communities crying out for help must end.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opened the Senate on Wednesday saying “this is an hour of great pain and injustice in America.”

In addition to Floyd, McConnell invoked the shooting deaths of emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor, 26, while she slept in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, and of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, while jogging in Georgia.

Taylor was asleep in her home in March when police used a battering ram to enter and serve a warrant. She was shot eight times. Police said they returned fire after shots were fired by Taylor’s boyfriend. The FBI is investigating the death.

“We need the truth and swift justice,” said McConnell, who noted Taylor was a resident of Louisville, where he lives.

McConnell said the country needs to listen to black Americans.

“Our nation needs to hear them,” McConnell said.

Hearings on brutality

A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into police brutality has been called this month by Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

In the House, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said his panel would conduct a hearing to explore legislation to stiffen federal penalties and expand statutes resulting from racially motivated crimes involving state and local law enforcement jurisdictions.

The Congressional Black Caucus also is crafting legislation that would condemn police brutality.

Horsford said he is working with colleagues “to call for a federal investigation and pass laws that hold those accountable for the murder of Mr. Floyd.”

“I will work with those calling for change so their voices and ideas are part of the solution,” Horsford said.

But any legislative action could take weeks. The House is not scheduled to return for votes until June 30.

That could change as leaders work to reach a compromise between the House and Senate on a fourth coronavirus relief package as funds for small businesses and the unemployed are depleted.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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