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Lawmakers demand police reform at State of the Union

Civil rights leaders say having victims of police violence in the audience on Tuesday will help humanize the issue of police brutality.
Posted at 5:52 PM, Feb 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-07 19:52:08-05

Democrats in Congress are pushing President Joe Biden to address police brutality head-on during his State of the Union by inviting the parents of two Black men killed by police officers as special guests Tuesday night. 

RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, mother and step-father of Tyre Nichols, were invited by Congressman Steven Horsford, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

"They will be there on that day to hear from the president and to hear from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle how we will finally take action to keep our communities safe," Horsford said. 

And Congresswoman Cori Bush has invited the father of Michael Brown, a Black teenager who was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and whose death helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.  

Civil rights leaders say having those family members in the audience on Tuesday will help humanize the issue of police brutality. 

"It touches people in a way that they can see themselves or see the humanity in an issue like police violence and how families are the ones left," said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

The president’s speech comes as some lawmakers and civil rights leaders are demanding more action to tackle police brutality, with some urging the president to again push for police reform in his remarks.  

"I think I speak for a whole lot of Americans when we say that we're sick and tired of human beings being turned into hashtags —this has got to stop," said Sen. Raphael Warnock.  

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with the president and vice president for nearly two hours at the White House the week before the address, with leaders saying they agreed to a path forward through legislative and executive action.  

"Public safety for all communities, because we understand that it is about the culture of policing and keeping all communities safe, and all of us should be able to agree that bad policing has no place in any American city or community," Horsford said.

But the prospects for Congressional reform seem dim with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives.  

Speaking at the Democratic National Committee’s winter reception last week, President Joe Biden touted his executive order on policing and again put the onus on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

"I signed the strongest executive order ever to reform federal police practices. I did my job. How many more? How many more horrible tragedies? How many more ghastly videos do we have — needless death — do we have to see before Congress steps up and does its job?" Biden said. 

Campbell says she’s hoping the president will call on Congress to act and lay out a comprehensive approach to police reform. 

"There are three levels of government that can impact addressing this issue around dealing with police accountability and public safety for across the board. It won't fix everything, but it moves the ball," Campbell said.