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Pelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime'

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July MORE (D-Calif.) on Wednesday called the death of an unarmed African American man in Minneapolis a crime and vowed that Congress will examine new federal strategies for preventing similar incidents in the future. 

"This is such a tragedy. It's a crime," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "It breaks your heart. It just breaks your heart. It's so sad. But there has to be — there has to be justice."

George Floyd, 46, died Monday after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by Minneapolis police officers.

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In one video taken by a bystander, Floyd could be heard repeatedly stating, "I can't breathe" as an officer held him to the ground with a knee on his neck. 

That video and others have sparked outrage, fueling calls for the officers’ arrests and, more broadly, for Congress to take another look at the racial disparities in the nation’s criminal justice system.

Floyd's death was just the latest in a growing series of similar fatalities around the country.

During a conference call with the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday morning, a number of rank-and-file lawmakers urged party leaders to back an aggressive federal response.

Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSix House Democrats ask Garland to review case of lawyer placed under house arrest over Chevron suit OSHA sends draft emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 to OMB review Imperative that Democrats figure out what went wrong in 2020 MORE (D-Mich.) and senior Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members including Chairwoman Karen BassKaren Ruth BassTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Police reform talks ramp up amid pressure from Biden, families Victims' relatives hold Capitol Hill meetings to push police reform MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeVictims' relatives hold Capitol Hill meetings to push police reform Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote House panel approves bill to set up commission on reparations MORE (D-Texas) quizzed their leadership team about how Democrats planned to respond to Floyd’s death, sources on the call told The Hill.

Pelosi suggested the Department of Justice (DOJ) should investigate the incident, and House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July House to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month Top Democrat: Bill to boost Capitol security likely to advance this month MORE (D-Md.) endorsed that idea while saying that the CBC should take the lead on any response from the House, according to several sources on the call. 

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The FBI, a branch of the DOJ, has already launched a civil rights investigation. But Democrats want the agency to go further and examine the training practices of the Minneapolis Police Department, particularly as they pertain to interactions with minorities. 

“The tragic taking of the lives of so many black men is a legacy of slavery, segregation, and bigotry,” Hoyer said in a statement. “It must be stopped, and those – whatever their profession, whatever their motivation – must be held accountable for actions unjustified by circumstances or fact.”

Democrats are pursuing several strategies in the early stages of their response. 

Pelosi said Democrats will conduct a series of hearings and forums to consider options, but she highlighted a specific proposal, sponsored by Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonBiden offers traditional address in eerie setting Congressional Black Caucus members post selfie celebrating first WH visit in four years Rep. Frederica Wilson shares her famous hat collection with Netflix MORE (D-Fla.), to create a special panel to examine the social status of African American men around the country. Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSchumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands White House raises refugee cap to 62,500 Sharpton eulogizes Daunte Wright: 'Tags of racism' have expired MORE (D-Minn.) is eyeing legislation to reform the criminal justice system more broadly. And behind Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month A historic moment to truly honor mothers Britney Spears to discuss conservatorship in court MORE (D-N.Y.), the House Judiciary Committee is drafting a letter to the DOJ, though it remains unclear what the message will be. 

Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said Floyd’s death is a symptom of broader problems plaguing minority communities around the country. Rooting out those problems, he argued, will require deep structural reforms empowering those populations to avail themselves of simple services such as broadband, a good education and ample health care.

“We ought to really take a look at this pandemic, look at everything that's happening around us, and let's admit the fact that it's time for us to restructure some things in our society,” Clyburn said.

Other CBC members who spoke up on the Wednesday call included House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesOn The Money: Breaking down Biden's .8T American Families Plan | Powell voices confidence in Fed's handle on inflation | Wall Street basks in 'Biden boom' Democratic leaders push to boost congressional staff pay Troy Carter wins race to fill Cedric Richmond's Louisiana House seat MORE (D-N.Y.) and Wilson, who counts among her constituents the family of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.

Four officers who were involved in Floyd’s arrest for alleged forgery were fired Tuesday, but that did little to soothe the anger and frustration over his death. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets and clashed with police, prompting officers to fire tear gas and nonlethal projectiles at the crowd. Omar condemned that action. 

“Shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at unarmed protesters when there are children present should never be tolerated. Ever," Omar tweeted Wednesday. "What is happening tonight in our city is shameful. Police need to exercise restraint, and our community needs space to heal." 

Omar has joined three fellow Minnesota Democrats — Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharStrengthen CBP regulations to reduce opioid deaths Why isn't Washington defending American companies from foreign assaults? Republicans float support for antitrust reform after Trump Facebook ban upheld MORE, Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithSenate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Sharpton eulogizes Daunte Wright: 'Tags of racism' have expired Hawley votes against anti-Asian hate crime bill MORE and Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumTop general: Defense officials nearing plan for Space National Guard Republican, Democratic lawmakers urge fully funding US assistance to Israel Progressive lawmaker to introduce bill seeking more oversight of Israel assistance MORE — in writing a letter calling for a federal, state and county probe into the Floyd death as well as “independent oversight” of law enforcement.

“Mr. Floyd’s death appears to be yet another horrifying instance of excessive force leading to the death of African Americans across this country,” the Minnesota lawmakers wrote

Floyd’s death is just the latest in a string of recent high-profile incidents targeting African Americans that have been captured on video.

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In February, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was pursued and fatally shot by two white residents in south Georgia; Arbery had been out for a run. Then, over Memorial Day weekend, a white woman called police on a black birder in New York City’s Central Park, saying that an “African American man” was “threatening” her and her dog. He had asked her to leash her dog.

Yet another incident caught on tape took place just this week. A Michigan sheriff’s deputy was captured on video punching a black woman in the head multiple times while another deputy tased her husband after the couple allegedly refused to obey orders to leave the scene of a shooting, The Detroit News reported.

“The incident that occurred this week causes all of us to search our conscience,” said Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellNurses union lobbies Congress on health care bills during National Nurses Week OSHA sends draft emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 to OMB review Why the US needs a successful federal green bank MORE (D-Mich.), who represents Ypsilanti Township, where the incident took place. “Brutality by anyone is never OK and whenever we witness violence captured on video it is deeply disturbing.”