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Pelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime'

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 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 TlaibBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' MORE (D-Mich.) and senior Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members including Chairwoman Karen BassKaren Ruth BassThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Pressure grows on California governor to name Harris replacement MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeePocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Grand jury charges no officers in Breonna Taylor death Hillicon Valley: Murky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role | Twitter investigating automated image previews over apparent algorithmic bias | House approves bill making hacking federal voting systems a crime 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 HoyerDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Hoyer on Trump election challenges: 'I think this borders on treason' Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview 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 WilsonFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Lobbying world Harris calls it 'outrageous' Trump downplayed coronavirus MORE (D-Fla.), to create a special panel to examine the social status of African American men around the country. Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations MORE (D-Minn.) is eyeing legislation to reform the criminal justice system more broadly. And behind Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocrats accuse GSA of undermining national security by not certifying Biden win Barr sparks DOJ firestorm with election probes memo Marijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments 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 JeffriesHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it's her last Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats 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 KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE, Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithSenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls Smith wins reelection in Minnesota Democrats expand Senate map, putting GOP on defense MORE and Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations Disagreements are a part of our process OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump extends Florida offshore drilling pause, expands it to Georgia, South Carolina | Democrats probe Park Service involvement in GOP convention | Sanders attacks 'corporate welfare' to coal industry included in relief package 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 DingellGM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards Ex-AG Holder urges GOP to speak against Trump efforts to 'subvert' election results McEnany disputes any Trump 'advocacy' with invite to Michigan lawmakers 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.”