Pelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime'

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBattle over reopening schools heats up Pelosi: Trump wearing a mask is 'an admission' that it can stop spread of coronavirus Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to reopening schools 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 TlaibDemocrats see victory in Trump culture war The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid MORE (D-Mich.) and senior Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members including Chairwoman Karen BassKaren Ruth BassThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump takes on CDC over schools Tim Scott says he's talking with House Democrats about reviving police reform bill Biden-Sanders 'unity task force' rolls out platform recommendations MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeTexas Democrats call for new stay-at-home order Local reparations initiatives can lead to national policy remedying racial injustice House to vote on removing bust of Supreme Court justice who wrote Dred Scott ruling 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 HoyerMexico's president uses US visit to tout ties with Trump Amy Kennedy wins NJ primary to face GOP's Van Drew House Democrat calls for 'real adult discussion' on lawmaker pay 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 WilsonGOP struggles to confront racial issues On The Money: Republicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election | Mnuchin: White House seriously considering second round of stimulus checks | Labor leaders under pressure on police unions Labor leaders under pressure to oust police unions MORE (D-Fla.), to create a special panel to examine the social status of African American men around the country. Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid MORE (D-Minn.) is eyeing legislation to reform the criminal justice system more broadly. And behind Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler: Barr dealings with Berman came 'awfully close to bribery' Nadler wins Democratic primary Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November 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 JeffriesReparations bill gains steam following death of George Floyd Karen Bass's star rises after leading police reform push The Hill's 12:30 Report: Supreme Court ruling marks big win for abortion rights groups 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 KlobucharThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response State election officials warn budget cuts could lead to November chaos Biden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street MORE, Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithTrump officials seek to reassure public about safety of a potential coronavirus vaccine The Hill's Campaign Report: Candidates, lawmakers mark Juneteenth Group of Democratic senators to propose making Juneteenth national holiday MORE and Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer Lawmakers seek investigation of Park Police after clearing of White House protesters 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 DingellDingell pushes provision to curtail drunk driving in House infrastructure package 18 states fight conservative think tank effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards Pelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime' 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.”