06.03.20

Statement On The Killing Of George Floyd

America is hurting.  Reeling from a deadly pandemic that has taken more than 100,000 lives.  Witnessing the broad daylight murder of yet another black man by an officer of the law.  Seething with rage and sorrow about the racial injustices that still plague our society.  And suffering from unprecedented political divisions, routinely worsened and deepened by a President whose every utterance only tears us further apart.  In my 45 years in the United States Senate, I have never seen our country so in need of healing.

When I first saw the video of George Floyd’s murder – a human being pinned down by the neck, crying “I can’t breathe,” and desperately calling out for his mother – I was shocked to my core.  For millions of Americans, and for me, that shock swiftly turned into anger.  How could a police officer, who has sworn an oath to protect and serve, so casually take a human being’s life?  Why did his fellow officers, witnessing what we all witnessed on video, do nothing to stop him?  How could this happen in plain sight, with multiple onlookers begging the officer to relent as George fell unconscious?

I was left both sickened and shaken.  And I did not know George Floyd.  Imagine if he were your neighbor or friend.  Imagine if George Floyd were your brother, your son, your husband, or your grandchild.  Imagine if George Floyd simply looked like your loved one, sharing the same skin color.  Imagine the concern you would have for such a person, living in constant fear of those responsible for protecting us all.

It’s no surprise that protests have swept our nation in the wake of his murder. Communities of color – and all those who sympathize with them – are fed up.  They are sick and tired of the fact that African Americans are nearly two and a half times as likely as white Americans to be killed by police officers.  No one of good conscience can sit idly by while African American lives are treated with less worth in a country that long ago promised equal rights and equal justice.

Protestors are aching for real accountability for officers of the law who engage in lawless violence.  And it’s not simply justice for George Floyd.  It’s justice for Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice – the list goes on and on and on.  Which is why the protests go on.  Too often, people feel that police officers who take black lives are treated like they are above the law.  They feel that the justice system, fueled by a culture of impunity, shields those officers who abuse the public’s trust.  Too often, accountability comes only after incontrovertible evidence – such as a damning video – happens to surface and the public demands justice.  Ultimately, accountability will require dismantling this culture of impunity, as well as ensuring that law enforcement agencies have training and policies in place that serve to rebuild trust in communities of color.

The protestors demand more from our justice system, and they demand more from a nation that promises that no one is above the law.  I stand with them.  And Congress must, too.

None of us condone – and indeed I strongly condemn – the looting and violence that is sadly taking place alongside peaceful protests.  The extremists and opportunists who have at times co-opted peaceful protests do not serve the cause of justice, and they will not bring the change our country so badly needs.  As my hero and dear friend Representative John Lewis said just a few days ago, “looting and burning is not the way.  Organize.  Demonstrate.  Sit in.  Stand up.  Vote. Be constructive, not destructive.”  I urge our fellow Americans to heed his wise words.

But I refuse to partake in efforts seeking to delegitimize all protestors and create even more distrust and division.  Demonstrators demanding accountability are not “thugs,” as President Trump has called them.  No one should threaten state-sanctioned violence against protestors, as this President and some of his allies have.  And I strongly oppose any efforts to invoke the Insurrection Act and unleash our military against these domestic demonstrations, as this President has absurdly threatened.  Our military is one of our nation’s most sacred institutions, serving to safeguard our constitutional rights against enemies abroad.  It should never be ordered to view American streets as the battlefield, which would only incite further chaos and deprive Americans of their right to peacefully assemble.  That is not the America we know and love.

President Trump has proven that he is incapable of, or perhaps uninterested in, healing and uniting our nation.  At every turn, his instinct is to divide and escalate.  During every crisis, he manages to manufacture another of his own making.  When Americans are in desperate need of a consoler-in-chief – a role that I have seen every past President play during my years in the Senate, Democrat or Republican – President Trump shows that he only knows how to be instigator-in-chief.  He has revealed himself to be president of this country in name only.  I never imagined I would say that of an American president.

So we must instead look to ourselves and each other to heal our country.  At the local, state, and national levels, we must carry on the cause of criminal justice and police reform.  We must push for systematic law enforcement reforms.  We must elect leaders who will prioritize racial justice and work tirelessly to achieve some measure of it.  And we must work to build bridges between communities so we better empathize with the struggles faced by those who have been marginalized for decades on end.

On Monday, Terrence Floyd, George’s brother, stood on the spot where his brother died, and made an emotional appeal to the hundreds of people watching, and to the nation. He pleaded for the protests to remain peaceful.  He pleaded for those who believe they are marginalized and disenfranchised not to give up hope that their voice matters.  And he pleaded for justice.

George died because he needed a breath.  His family now asks that we take a breath for justice, a breath for peace, a breath for our country — and a breath for George.  We should honor his memory by heeding their anguished advice.  There is much to do.  And Congress must get to work. 

I have been in the Senate for a long time.  I have seen America in crisis.  Yet each time, without exception, I have seen America emerge a more just and stronger nation.  The crises America faces today feel overwhelming, historic, even existential.  But if we stay true to the values that define our republic – equality, justice, and the rule of law – I am hopeful we will make it through, a slightly more perfect union.

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