WASHINGTON (AP) — The toll of police brutality in America was on painful display Tuesday night as family members of Black men and women killed in custody sat among lawmakers in the House to hear the president’s State of the Union address.
Mothers, fathers and loved ones of victims of police violence were invited as guests of the Congressional Black Caucus and the first lady to put pressure on Washington to address the issue of policing.
“It may have been Tyre Nichols yesterday, but it could be any one of us today and tomorrow,” Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., the chairman of the Black Caucus, said of the most recent victim during a news conference Tuesday morning.
A video released earlier this month showed the violent Jan. 7 encounter between Nichols and the Memphis, Tennessee, police officers who savagely beat the 29-year-old Black FedEx worker for three minutes while screaming profanities at him. Nichols was hospitalized and died days later. Five police officers, who also are Black, have been fired and charged with second-degree murder and two more have been disciplined.
Days after the release of the video, Horsford reached out to Nichols’ parents, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, to invite them to the State of the Union address. The Nevada Democrat said it was important that the couple witnessed the president’s speech as he laid out the important issues facing Americans.
“Being in the room for the State of the Union is an experience that I hope will give Tyre Nichols’ parents some comfort and, most of all, hope,” Horsford said. “They deserve to hear a commitment to real action on ending this national scourge of unnecessary deaths at the hands of law enforcement.”
Also in attendance is the mother of Eric Garner and the brother of George Floyd, among others.
The visible reminder of police brutality comes against the backdrop of reignited negotiations among lawmakers to draft a modest proposal for police reform that could pass in a newly GOP-controlled House.
The talks last Congress focused on writing compromise legislation curbing law enforcement agencies’ use of force and making them more accountable for abuses. But negotiations stalled over Democrats’ demands to make individual police officers accused of abuses liable for civil penalties.
Black Caucus members went to the White House last week for a three-hour meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and left with an agreement on the path forward both legislatively and through executive action.
On Tuesday night, Biden is expected to call on Congress to pass the legislative package, named after Floyd, which passed in the House last session but failed to overcome a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
Meanwhile, advocates have been urging the White House to be more clear about what has historically held up progress on police reform, even when Democrats controlled Congress.
Horsford and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., the two men leading negotiations in each chamber, said that this time around, Democrats cannot go forward on their own, but will need buy-in from Republicans and law enforcement groups to pass lasting, meaningful reform.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.