(WASHINGTON) — BY: TRISH TURNER and LIBBY CATHEYBefore the Senate began its first hearing on policing since George Floyd’s death in custody triggered a wave of protests calling for reform, an attorney for Floyd’s family said there “was a heavy meeting” between President Donald Trump and select families at the White House Tuesday morning.Outside the hearing room, Lee Merritt, one of the attorneys for the families of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, said “tears were flowing” at the meeting between Trump and eight families whose loved ones have fallen victim to police brutality.Asked specifically about the president’s reaction to the families, Lee said he felt the president’s concern was genuine but expressed skepticism if that would extend to those outside the room.”I believe it was genuine concern for each of the families represented,” Merritt said. “He gave no indication that the families in that room reflected a problem in America, that policy could actually resolve it — and it can — so that was my concern.”Members from some of those eight families were hoping to come to Wednesday’s hearing, but a representative traveling with Merritt said they were told they could not come and were “really disappointed.”Instead, they were watching the hearing in the office of Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only black Republican senator who is spearheading his party’s effort on reform. They were likely restricted from the hearing room due to COVID-19 precautions.Chairman Lindsay Graham attempted to open the the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee with a video the South Carolina senator warned was “hard to watch” — but technical glitches prevented it from running.”Can we consider it an act of God?,” asked Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.”Could be,” replied Graham.Graham continued his opening remarks, “I have learned over the years, but particularly recently, that every black man in America feels threatened when they are stopped by the cops. That it’s not 99%, it is 100%.”He called for more minorities on police forces across the country and said, “Seems to me there has come a time for us to move on from chokeholds,” but stopped short of saying policing had systematic racism.”Is policing in America systematically a racist enterprise? I’d like to think not, because I do believe most cops are far more good than bad,” Graham said. “But when every black man in America believes that getting stopped by the cops is a traumatic experience, something happened, somehow, somewhere. And I’d like to have a systematic approach to problems that continue to happen over and over again.”The Republican, who is up for re-election in November, made clear he did not support defunding police but was open to reform.”I don’t see a whole lot of energy here to defund the police. I see a lot of energy to reform the police,” Graham said.Graham said that Scott would present the GOP-backed legislation to the Senate on Wednesday, to counter the Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act in the House.”The question for the committee, is it possible to find common ground? The answer is obviously, yes, if we want to. As chairman, I would like to,” Graham added.In later questioning, Graham acknowledged the different experiences he and Scott have faced — though they are senators from the same state — because of their race, but in a veiled criticism at past administrations said this issue should’ve been addressed sooner.”This is a tough time for the country. Trump’s a handful, but we’re not here because of a failing of one administration. We’re here because of the failing of society. And most of the things we want to do now could have been done eight years ago,” Graham said.”I come from South Carolina. Tim and I have completely different experiences with the cops. There is no getting around that. It is now time to have an honest conversation about why is that, how can it be that if you’re a United State senator from South Carolina, and you’re black, you get stopped five or six times. When you’re white you never get stopped,” Graham continued. “How can it be that people die because of a $20 bill, who are in custody not threatening anybody.”Expressing his hesitation with reforms to qualified immunity, Graham said, “Let’s make sure that we don’t destroy the ability to be a cop in the process of trying to fix things.”Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., in her opening statement, echoed a sentiment from Floyd’s brother, Philonise, made last week before the House Judiciary Committee.”When we eliminate systemic racism, it will be clear to everyone that the life of a black man is worth more than an allegedly counterfeit $20 bill,” Harris said.Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introducing a witness, acknowledged the unavoidable: Floyd’s death happened in her home state.”If we stand there and demand dominance and wave Bibles, we’re no better than monsters,” Klobuchar said. “But if we act, and we actually do something and get this bill passed. Well then we’re lawmakers, and that will be the legacy of George Floyd.”In Merritt’s opening remarks, he went through several names of those who have died in encounters with law enforcement, nodding to the families watching the hearing.”Will future generations look back at this moment with pride that we confronted our greatest evils with real courage, or will they be disappointed, because we had a moment to make change possible and fail? Right now, that answer still hangs in the balance,” he said.In what turned into a testy exchange between Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and expert witness Vanita Gupta, Cornyn asked Gupta why she used the term “structural racism” instead of “systemic.””What does that mean,” Cornyn questioned, “that means every thing, every institution, every person in America is a racist?””It means that there is bias built into existing institutions and the policing,” said Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “I think every American institution has been kind of shaped by forces, and our goal is to do what we can, as policymakers, as advocates, to take that out, and to provide and to try to fight it in the modern day iterations that it appears.”Cornyn asked point-blank: “So you do believe that basically all Americans are racist?””I think we all have implicit bias and racial bias. Yes, I do,” Gupta replied, to which Cornyn said, “Wow,” and then, “You lost me.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.