Before they agreed to a proposed study of policing approaches in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, lawmakers on a Louisiana House committee Wednesday removed a reference to Floyd and language questioning the criminal justice system’s treatment of racial minorities.
An effort from Rep. Ted James, R-Baton Rouge, to create the 19-member study group to review Louisiana’s law enforcement systems and policing methods sparked strong reactions in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Several white lawmakers described as offensive the legislation’s original language describing “the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers in recent years” and referencing the death of Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I’ve never seen a more racist document than the one you brought,” said Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, who says she comes “from a law enforcement family.” Horton added: “I don’t choose to look at Minneapolis as the norm, because it’s not.”
She said she doesn’t have a problem conducting a study to ensure officers have the proper training, but she also talked about law enforcement officers being targeted and “ambushed.”
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, said he did not disagree with the study, but was “concerned with the tone.” He called Floyd’s death a “tragedy,” but said he didn’t agree with “presupposing” that there are policing problems based on race.
“I’ve not seen that it’s just a problem between black victims and white police,” Johnson said.
James agreed to rewrite the language to win passage that sent the measure to the House floor for debate. He said he prioritized the creation of the study group over the reference to Floyd.
“I think the work will honor him more than his name being included,” James said.
Floyd died while in the custody of Minneapolis police and his death has prompted states and municipalities around the U.S. to reconsider policing methods and the nation’s broader approach to public safety.
James’ rewritten legislation creating the study group says the “unreasonable use of force” by law enforcement in recent years has “raised a number of questions about the disparate treatment” of different segments of society within the criminal justice system, without specifically referencing minority groups.
Black members of the committee said a policing study cannot ignore the racial disparities in police use of force or the country’s long history of racism.
“I have been offended since I was 5 years old and I was told that I was dirty because my skin was brown,” said Rep. Candace Newell, a New Orleans Democrat.
She described the conversation about policing as “long overdue.”
Rep. Royce Duplessis said a disproportionate majority of police brutality victims are black men.
“That is a fact we cannot run from,” the New Orleans Democrat said. He added: “We cannot deal with race-based issues through race-neutral policies.”
After the study legislation won approval from the committee without objection, James called the discussion one of his proudest moments as a lawmaker.
“These are the kind of conversations that we have to have,” he said.
The Senate planned to consider a similar task force creation Wednesday afternoon in committee. Read the full story.