On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi again refused to apologize for accusing Republicans of “trying to get away with murder, the murder of George Floyd.” Her accusation comes after protests over the horrific police killing of George Floyd have devolved into looting, vandalism, and arson across America that destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. In this context, her accusation arguably amounts to incitement. Yet other Democrats stood with her accusation.
Pelosi has repeatedly insisted that the Republican police reform bill, Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) JUSTICE Act, is “unsalvageable” and does “nothing.” On Friday, she suggested that the House Democrats’ bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, would have prevented Floyd’s death.
“I think George Floyd’s murder would have been prevented if our bill that we have now is, um, were the law of the land.,” the House speaker said at a press conference.
When asked if she thinks the murder accusation against Republicans was inappropriate, she repeatedly said, “I do not.”
“We’re talking about something that is an incident that everybody saw, the martyrdom, everybody saw eight minutes, forty-six seconds of a knee on the neck,” she added. “And then they come up with a bill that says … no chokeholds, but maybe some.”
Yet contrary to Pelosi’s claims, the JUSTICE Act does introduce incentives for local police departments to ban chokeholds. As Scott explains in a video on the act, most police departments have already banned chokeholds, so the act would make such bans necessary for departments to receive federal funding. According to a summary, the JUSTICE Act “requires that all States and local units of government put in place touch policies severely restricting the use of chokeholds, except in situations where deadly force is authorized.”
In fact, the Republican and Democratic bills include some of the same provisions, and the JUSTICE Act explicitly includes a provision Pelosi herself has championed — a proposal to study the social status of black men and boys in American society. Both would make lynching a federal crime, and both would address issues such as no-knock warrants (the policy behind the horrific police home invasion that killed Breonna Taylor).
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged Republicans to bring a bill to the floor by July 4, but Senate Democrats pre-emptively blasted the bill before Republicans had finished drafting it. Minutes after Scott, a black Republican senator, revealed the bill, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called it a “token” effort.
Scott has suggested that the only reason Democrats blocked debate on the JUSTICE Act is because they cannot stomach the idea of Republicans taking credit on police reform.
Later on in the press conference on Friday, Pelosi mixed up George Floyd’s name, calling him “George Kirby.”
The House speaker first accused Republicans of complicity in George Floyd’s murder in an interview with CBS Radio on Tuesday.
“We’re saying no chokeholds,” Pelosi told CBS Radio. “They’re not saying no chokeholds. I mean, there’s a big difference there. What’s the compromise? Some chokeholds? I don’t see what the compromise is.”
“For something to happen, they’re going to have to face the reality of police brutality, the reality of the need for justice in policing, and the recognition that there are many, many good people in law enforcement, but not all and that we have to address those concerns,” Pelosi said. “So far they’re trying to get away with murder, actually. The murder of George Floyd.”
On Wednesday, she doubled down on the accusation. When asked if she would apologize, she said, “Absolutely, positively not.”
Schumer and Durbin defended Pelosi’s comments.
When asked about the incendiary accusation on Wednesday, Schumer gave the boilerplate answer, “Pelosi’s answered that question herself and what she said was fine with me.”
So there you have it: Falsely accusing Republicans of complicity in the murder of George Floyd at a time when violent rioters are looting and burning down buildings over Floyd’s death is “fine” with Chuck Schumer.
Durbin similarly said he stood by Pelosi’s incendiary accusation. “Well, she has explained what that was all about and I’ll stand by her words on this, but we shouldn’t let something this historic and this meaningful be diverted by one word here, one word there,” the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate said.
Durbin’s response is truly incredible. He characterized an accusation of complicity with murder as a matter of “one word here, one word there.” Which word would he object to, exactly? Well, it appears he wouldn’t object to any of the words. He said, “I’ll stand by her words on this.” In other words, Dick Durbin will stand by “they’re trying to get away with murder, the murder of George Floyd.”
The responses from Durbin and Schumer are instructive, however. Both of Pelosi’s fellow Democrats acted as though the House speaker’s remarks were taken out of context, as though they were being mischaracterized as an inflammatory accusation of complicity with murder. On the contrary, Pelosi was crystal clear, and she has tripled down on her accusation.
Contrary to the actual text of the JUSTICE Act, Pelosi says the Republican police reform bill does “nothing.” She insists, however, that the Democratic bill would have “prevented” the “murder of George Floyd.” Therefore, Republicans are guilty of “trying to get away with” the “murder of George Floyd.”
This accusation is not only false, it is malicious and incendiary. Even under the restrictive precedent of New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), Republicans like Tim Scott may have a good defamation case against Pelosi for making this accusation at this time.
Just last night, antifa agitators in Portland attempted to set up an “autonomous zone” next to the North Precinct of the Portlant Police Department. They engaged in looting, vandalism, and arson. Similar riots across the country have killed more than 20 people and damaged millions if not billions of dollars in property. In this context of unrest, Pelosi is repeatedly and falsely accusing Republicans of complicity in the murder of George Floyd, and her fellow Democrats are defending the accusation, suggesting that it’s a distraction from truly important issues.
Congress arguably should vote to expel Pelosi from the House over this serious attack on American civility.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.