Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference Unveiling Congressional Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass and House and Senate Democrats for a press conference unveiling Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act, legislation to end police brutality, hold police accountable, improve transparency in policing and create meaningful, structural change that safeguards every American’s right to safety and equal justice. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Karen Bass, for your tremendous leadership.
Under the leadership of Karen Bass, many of us had the privilege last year of going to Ghana to observe the 400th anniversary of the first slaves going across the Atlantic, America, really – there was no United States, but going across the Atlantic. It was horrible. The kidnapping, the purchase of those slaves, the dungeons in which they were kept. And if they survived that, to be on a slave ship. And if they survived that, to be sold into slavery and then everything that came from that.
When we were in Selma, only just a – in March, we saw at Bryan Stevenson's – one of his museums, a beautiful display, heartbreaking display of children, little children saying, ‘Mama? Mama? Has anyone seen our mother?’ These children separated from their mothers. The cruelty of that. And that is why, when George Floyd called out for his mother when he was subjected to that knee in the neck, it was just a continuation of some horror that has existed in our country for a very long time.
So, as to Mr. Clyburn and Mr. Hoyer – Mr. Hoyer, our distinguished Leader, Mr. Clyburn, our Whip, join Karen Bass, Leader Schumer, two Senators, leaders on this issue, Congresswoman Harris – Senator. Did I say Senator? Senator Harris, Senator Booker in Emancipation Hall, aptly named for those who built the Capitol of the United States, in their honor. We were there for eight minutes and 46 seconds on our knees. My Members will attest, it is a very long time. It is a very long time. And I graciously led them in falling over when it was over so that they could do the same thing.
But here we are, the martyrdom of George Floyd gave the American experience a moment of national anguish as we grieve for the Black Americans killed by police brutality. Today, this moment of national anguish is being transformed into a movement of national action, as Americans from across the country peacefully protest to demand an end to injustice. Today, with the Justice in Policing Act, the Congress is standing with those fighting for justice and taking action.
Let us, my colleagues, just go over some of those names of martyrdom: George Floyd, [Jordan] Davis, Oscar Grant, so sad, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin. My colleagues, any other names you want to add?
Members. Emmet Till. Sean Bell. Sandra Bland. Amadou Diallo. Steven Taylor. Joshua Johnson. Eula Love.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you.
We cannot settle for anything less than transformative, structural change, which is why the Justice in Policing Act will remove barriers to prosecuting police misconduct and covering damages by addressing the qualified immunity doctrine. It will demilitarize police by limiting the transfer of military weaponry to state and local police departments. It will combat police brutality by requiring body and dashboard cameras, banning choke holds, no-knock warrants in drug cases and end racial profiling. It will stop – it will finally make lynching, Mr. Hoyer, a federal hate crime, and I support Chairwoman Bass and Representative Bobby Rush and our two distinguished Senators, Harris and Booker, and others for their work in helping to pass H.R. 35 this year.
Police brutality is a heartbreaking reflection of an entrenched system of racial injustice in America. True justice can only be achieved with full, comprehensive action. That is what we are doing today. This is a first step. There is more to come.
In the coming weeks, the bill – the House will hold hearings, mark up the bill. Once the House passes the Justice in Policing Act, Leader McConnell will hopefully – he must swiftly take it up. Leader in the Congress – the President must not stand in the way of Justice. The Congress and the country will not relent until this legislation is made into law.
My colleague, Mr. Clyburn, is always getting awards for liberty and justice for all. That is what this is about. That is what our distinguished Leader, Mr. Schumer, talked about in Emancipation Hall. I am pleased to yield to the distinguished Leader of the United States Senate, Democratic Leader, Mr. Schumer.
Chair Bass. Next year, will be the 50th anniversary of the Congressional Black Caucus. Fifty years ago there were thirteen Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and one of them, Representative Metcalfe, he was the one that came up with policies related to police reviews almost 50 years ago. It is in their history and legacy that we stand today to continue on. And I just want to thank all of my colleagues that are here today because we are not in session today and you came in specifically for this. And I just want to thank you for standing in solidarity with this legislation.
Let me say, also, that one of the beauties of this bill is that many Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have legislation, individual bills that are a part of the larger bill because they've been working on it for so long. I just want to briefly mention their names and then open it up for questions. Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, Hank Johnson, Representative Clay, Bonnie Watson Coleman, John Lewis, Representative Butterfield and Pressley.
And, with that, I would like to open it up for questions. Yes?
Q: Thank you, Chairwoman Bass. Because there are so many of you here today who believe in this legislation, I was wondering if you could, maybe with a show of hands, demonstrate how many of you are confident that this legislation can actually crossed the finish line, that it can actually become law in this current political environment?
Chair Bass. You want us to raise our hands?
Leader Hoyer. Does that imply confidence in President Trump?
Q: That’s part of it.
Chair Bass. Can I just say that one of the things that gives us confidence is the fact that there are thousands of people around this country marching. There is a movement that has caught fire, that is multi-racial and that has also spread around the world. And we need to think about how the United States appears around the world when we go out and promote human rights, the world is looking at us. That’s going to help us over the finish line.
Q: To follow up on that, the President tweeted, ‘Law and order. Not defund and abolish the police. The radical left Democrats have gone crazy.’ I am not asking you to respond to the President's tweet –
Chair Bass. Really? Why?
Leader Hoyer. She said she’s not.
Chair Bass. Oh, you’re not going to. Good.
Q: That is the narrative that the President and Republicans could very well likely create around this legislation. So, how do you respond to that? Can you also, just on camera, tell us why you are wearing the Kente cloths? The significance of today, why you are wearing it.
Chair Bass. The significance of the Kente cloth is our African heritage and, for those of you without that heritage, who are acting in solidarity. That is the significance of the Kente cloth, our origins and respecting our past.
Would anybody – I mean I'm happy to respond to that, but if there's anybody else who would like to. You know, I think for us, especially when it comes to this legislation, we feel it is transformative. That it will transform the relationships that our communities have with the police. And I think that in terms of the ‘law and order’ message that the President is spewing out there, there is nothing new about that message and I do not believe it will be successful.
Q: Yes. Senator Tom Cotton called for an ‘overwhelming show of force.’ Suggested maybe the 101st Airborne, the 82nd Airborne should be brought in. He also told Politico that he doesn’t believe he can say that there is systemic racism in the criminal justice system. I was wondering if you could respond to those two ideas.
Chair Bass. Yeah, I can – would somebody like to respond? Mr. Whip Clyburn.
Whip Clyburn. Many of you have heard me go to Tocqueville’s description of what makes this country great. And he wrote in his two volume book Democracy in America, that America is not great because it is more enlightened than any other nation, but rather, because it has always been able to repair its faults. That's what makes this country great. And most right-thinking Americans know that the greatness of this country is at stake. We have unveiled, for whatever reason, some faults that need to be repaired. Faults in our health care system. Faults in our judicial system.
So, let me say it to Mr. Cotton. Pick up any history book of America. I would ask him to please just read the history of Isaac Woodard, a black man who came home from World War II. On the bus from Fort Gordon, Georgia, trying to get to South Carolina. And he was stopped, taken off a bus in Batesburg, South Carolina by a deputy sheriff. He was in his uniform. And that Deputy Sheriff took his billy stick and punched his eyes out. Is that institutional in law enforcement? That has been the foundation upon which law enforcement in many parts of this country have been established. Cotton is from Arkansas. He ought to be ashamed of himself.
Congressman Clay. Let me also add. I represent the heartland of America. Missouri is just north – oh, I'm Lacy Clay from St. Louis, Missouri. Missouri is just north of Arkansas and I would suggest to any local, state or federal official, sometimes we have to follow the will and wishes of the American people.
Now, I've seen millions in my state and around the country, in small towns in Missouri and throughout this nation, who know there is an injustice throughout this nation, that we have been treated unequally. So, I suggest Senator Cotton and others follow the lead of the people, the American people, and get on board with this effort.
Chair Bass. Yes.
Q: I think – you know – both Republicans, in both the House and Senate, said that a compromise can be reached, but in order to do this, House lawmakers need to be called back to the House. Speaker Pelosi, would you like to address that one?
That's what Leader McCarthy has said.
Leader Hoyer. I've heard Leader McCarthy's comments. We are working. We are here on behalf of the American people, not just African Americans, but the American people. Committees are working today, and I’ve said I'm going to call the House back as soon as this legislation is ready to hit the Floor. And we are going to vote on it, and I'm confident it's going to pass the House.
But sadly, I am not confident that a body that has not been able to pass the Emmett Till lynching bill will pass this bill. I hope so, and I hope the President doesn't adopt your premise. I hope he adopts a premise of justice for all. If he does, America will be better.
Chair Bass. Yes.
Q: Congresswoman, the Minneapolis City Council has done a sort of – peoples are calling it defund police. Is that something that the Caucus supports? Is it something that can happen in a federal way? Or is that just –
Chair Bass. Well, I can’t imagine that happening in a federal way, but let me just tell you that part of that cry is a desire for there to be significant higher investment in communities, looking at why police are needed, what happens, what are the root causes of the problems in communities?
And a lot of people feel what it comes to the defense budget, maybe that money could be used in different ways, and I think that that's a similar issue. But the part about having a comprehensive investment in communities on behalf of the Black Caucus, let me just say that obviously we are focusing on this bill right now, but we do have other legislation coming along the lines in the form of jobs and justice, which gets at a lot of issues in the community.
Q: Just to follow up, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer, do you support the defund police that we’re seeing on the ground?
Speaker Pelosi. I think the Congresswoman answered your question very clearly. But the fact is, is that we do have a great deal of legislation coming down the pike that addresses some of the concerns of our communities across the country.
One of them that I wish the Senate would pass right away is The Heroes Act. In The Heroes Act, we support community, state and local governments. We support the disparity in the coronavirus, how it attacks committees of color and we would hope that the Senate would not ignore that and would pass the legislation. And we would hope that we would put more money into the pockets of people who really need that now. And so we have that.
And then, following that, Mr. Hoyer has on the schedule that before the fourth of July, hopefully, we will pass the Affordable Care Act stabilization act, which will provide fairness and access to affordable health care in our country. As Mr. Clyburn mentioned earlier, that’s a challenge, as well as our bill – the infrastructure legislation that will build America in a green way providing jobs.
That's what we said when we ran in . We were going to, For The People, lower the cost of health care by lowering the cost of prescription drugs and keeping the pre-existing condition benefit. We were going to lower health care costs, bigger paychecks by building infrastructure in a green way and third, cleaner government with Mr. Lewis’ provisions in there that are about voter suppression – any voter suppression and the rest.
So, there are all kinds of ways that we've come at this. The fact that the distinguished Chairwoman mentioned, this is – and as she has said and others have said, we want to work with our police departments. There are many who take pride in their work. We want to be able to make sure that the focus is on them. But there are many things we call upon our police departments to deal with, mental health issues, policing in schools and the rest, that we could rebalance some of our funding to address some of those issues more directly.
But this isn't about that, and that should not be the story that leaves here. The story that leaves here is, as Mr. Clyburn said, liberty and justice for all. Mr. Schumer had mentioned that as well, here and in the Emancipation Hall. Mr. Hoyer mentioned repeating our distinguished former president, Mr. Obama, as to what modesty or humility or patriotism says. We know we have to do better in certain respects. Let's focus on what Lincoln said, ‘Public sentiment is everything. With it you can accomplish almost anything, without it, practically nothing.’
The public sentiment could not be clearer. We need to make some transformative change, not incremental, transformative change. And as we do so, we will change policy as we do in this legislation. We will use all the tools at our disposal to make sure that we are moving toward a more perfect union with liberty and justice for all and have those debates at the local level, as that is a local decision – a local level.
But to do so, that doesn't say we're going to pile more money onto further militarize the police. No, we are going to address mental health issues, education issues in our communities as well, and I don't want anyone to get the impression that, but for some of the stuff we are doing now, many of these people would be not productive members of society. They will; we just want to make it easier for them in the communities to be able to be treated equally, as Mr. Jeffries mentioned.
And I thank – where did he go? Our Chairman of the Judiciary Committee spent his life on these issues about fairness. Thank you, Mr. Nadler for that. Everyone here knows what they're talking about and what they are doing.
And the safety of the American people is an oath that we take to protect and defend. That’s our responsibility. We know that their safety is important and to do so in a constitutional way and not in some sloganeer-tweeting way that the President may put forth.
So, we feel very confident about the path we are on, not only with this legislation, but what will come next. And we’ll do so listening. As Steny said, ‘We hear you. We see you,’ and your views are important to us as we go forward.
It's a pretty exciting time. This is a transformational piece of legislation. This is an important day. The martyrdom, the martyrdom of George Floyd – and by Tuesday, by tomorrow may he rest in peace – has made a change in the world. So, let's not get into these questions that may be from the small minds of some – but – about as far as safety is concerned, but look at it writ large.
With that, I yield back to the distinguished Chair.
Chair Bass. Two things very quickly. One, the bill does not provide any new money for policing, and two, there is a provision in the bill for grants to communities to have projects that begin to re-envision what policing might be about in a particular neighborhood.
And let me also say as the Speaker said, ‘public sentiment.’ The polling for public sentiment is 80 percent in support of peaceful protests where people now recognize the challenges in our policing system. Let me bring up Lisa Blunt Rochester from the great state of Delaware.
Congresswoman Blunt Rochester. Thank you, Madam Speaker and to all of the leadership here. John Lewis is not here, but he is our colleague. And he has been the conscience of the conscience of the Congress. And what he probably would say is, let's keep our eyes on the prize. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize. Everybody in this country can do something that nobody else can do. We are the Congress. What we are doing here today is our goal. There will be state and local governments that will call for things in their areas.
But there was a question at the beginning where we were asked to raise our hand about our belief in whether this could happen or not. Well, I looked at some of my colleagues like Bobby Scott and Rosa DeLauro and others here. When I started three years ago – three and a half years ago, I would not have believed that we would have had paid family leave or sick time. But the times called for it because of COVID-19.
This is the time. This is the time. As Fannie Lou Hamer said, ‘We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ That's why you see us flying in from across the country, because we are doing our job. And so, for all the distractors out there, masters of distraction, we are keeping our eyes on the prize. We are keeping our eyes on the prize, and we need that to be the story. State and local will do what state and local needs to do. Those folks, those young people, those old people, black, white, native people, who this country, if we really want to go deep – we are trying to rebuild the foundation. That's all.
So, keep our eyes on the prize.
Chair Bass. With that, I think that is a great close, and let me just end by saying that as we address the question of police abuse, we understand that it impacts many different communities, not just of the African American community, the Latino community, the Asian community the Native American community, and we are united in getting justice in policing passed.
Thank you very much.