Senior Democrats kneel for eight minutes and 46 seconds in honour of George Floyd

Democrat politicians knelt for eight minutes and 46 seconds at the Capitol in Washington DC to honour the death of George Floyd.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had earlier led the House and Senate Democrats in a moment of silence after the unarmed black man was killed in police custody, sparking protests across the US and the world.

Senator Chuck Schumer and former Democrat presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris were among those who knelt in the building’s Emancipation Hall.

The duration they knelt for was the length of time prosecutors say George Floyd was pinned under a white police officer’s knee before his death in Minneapolis on 25 May.

Nancy Pelosi, centre, read out of the names of people killed in police custody
Image:Nancy Pelosi, centre, read out the names of people killed in police custody
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Ms Pelosi read out the names of Mr Floyd and others who have been killed in police custody in the US.

The house speaker, drawing on the nation’s founding with slavery, also said: “We’re here to observe that pain.”

Before kneeling, she added: “We’re here to respect the actions of the American people to speak out against that.

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“We are here to honour George Floyd.”

Democrats later proposed a sweeping overhaul of police oversight and procedures as mass protests denounce the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

Ms Pelosi said: “We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change.”

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Democrats knelt down in honour of George Floyd
Image:Democrats knelt down in honour of George Floyd

The Justice in Policing Act would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents and ban police choke holds, among other changes, according to an early draft.

Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus which is leading the effort, called it “bold” and “transformative”.

She added: “The world is witnessing the birth of a new movement in this country.”

Ms Bass continued: “A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession where you have highly-trained officers that are accountable to the public.”

The package confronts several aspects of law enforcement accountability and practices that have come under criticism, especially as more police violence is captured on video and shared around the world.

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The proposed legislation would:

  • Revise the federal criminal police misconduct statute to make it easier to prosecute officers involved in misconduct “knowingly or with reckless disregard”
  • Change “qualified immunity” protections for police “to enable individuals to recover damages when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights”
  • Seek to provide greater oversight and transparency of police behaviour including by granting subpoena power to the Justice Department to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of potential misconduct and help states conduct independent investigations
  • Ban racial profiling and boost requirements for police body cameras
  • Create a National Police Misconduct Registry to try to prevent officers from transferring from one department to another with past misconduct undetected

A long-sought federal anti-lynching bill stalled in Congress is also included in the package.

However, it stops short of calls by activists to “defund the police”, a push to dismantle or reduce financial resources to police departments that has struck new intensity in the protests since Mr Floyd’s death.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler will convene a hearing on the legislation on Wednesday.

It is unclear if law enforcement and the powerful police unions will back any of the proposed changes or if congressional Republicans will join the effort.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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