Families impacted by police violence invited to State of the Union by Congressional Black Caucus

The parents and siblings of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, and others, will join the parents of Tyre Nichols as President Biden delivers his primetime remarks.

More than a dozen families of Black victims killed or brutalized by police have been invited by Congressional Black Caucus members as guests to President Joe Biden’s Tuesday night State of the Union address, theGrio has learned.

House Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic House Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn, and other Democratic lawmakers, will be hosting the parents and siblings of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Ronald Greene, and several others, to join the parents of Tyre Nichols on Capitol Hill as President Biden delivers his second annual SOTU address, where he is expected to strongly focus on police reform and public safety.

US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol House Chamber on March 1, 2022 in Washington, DC. During his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden was expected to speak on his administration’s efforts to lead a global response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, work to curb inflation, and bring the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Saul Loeb – Pool/Getty Images)

To shine a blaring light on the reignited calls to pass police reform, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, the mother and stepfather of Nichols – the 29-year-old recently beat to death by Memphis police – will sit in First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s box to watch the president’s remarks after being initially invited by the chair of Congressional Black Caucus, U.S. Steven Horsford of Nevada.

The collective efforts of Black congressional members seek to emphasize and humanize what they see as a national crisis of police-involved deaths of mostly young Black men in America. Lawmakers also hope to build momentum to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act – the current working legislative effort to enact accountability and improve policing on the federal level. 

Before the State of the Union, the invited families will participate in a closed-door roundtable with CBC members so that elected leaders can listen to their stories and “hear directly from those constituents who…have been impacted by policing in America,” CBC Chairman Horsford told theGrio exclusively.

“There’s a sense of urgency at this moment to not allow this issue to lapse or to fall by the wayside or for there to be lip service,” he said. 

Horsford is part of a small group of Black lawmakers working both in front of the camera and behind the scenes to advance legislation to fix America’s policing after years of inaction in Congress. Horsford was joined by Clyburn, U.S. Reps. Joe Neguse, Sheila Jackson Lee, and U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Raphael Warnock for a White House meeting last week to discuss pathways forward with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

A source with knowledge about the Oval Office meeting on policing last Thursday said the group of CBC members told President Biden that they will pursue a legislative strategy and keep the White House abreast every step of the way. They also asked the president formally to speak on the issue in his State of the Union address. 

U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris (L) host a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), in the Oval Office at the White House on February 02, 2023 in Washington, DC. Members of the caucus encouraged the administration to push for national law enforcement reform in the wake of several high-profile killings of unarmed Black men, most recently the beating death of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

There is a legislative process happening behind closed doors. Horsford tells theGrio, “We are looking for meaningful reforms, and that’s going to require bipartisan support based on the reality of the makeup of the Senate and the House.”

The CBC did not ask Biden nor Harris to get intimately involved in the strategy as of yet.

One of the at least 15 guests invited by Black congressional members is Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold in New York City. Minority Leader Jeffries invited the mother-turned-activist to shine a light on the work she continues to do to ban the use of police chokeholds and seek accountability for her son’s death after more than eight years.

In a statement to theGrio, Jeffries said of Carr: “[She] is an unyielding force in the fight for justice who carries the torch for her son, Eric Garner. She spends her time fighting to make police chokeholds illegal nationwide. It has been a deep honor to work with her in the past on legislation to ban the police use of chokeholds in Eric’s memory and to invite her to join me at President Biden’s State of the Union Address.”

Garner, 43, was infamously killed after NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo held him in a chokehold until he lost consciousness. Garner notably yelled out, “I can’t breathe” – a phrase that became a rallying call against police brutality and sparked many protests nationwide. 

Carr told theGrio exclusively that she wants to see real federal action on police reform. “Blood is running in the streets very quietly, and our children have paid the price to try to get the laws passed. We can’t wait any longer,” she said. “So I just ask the nation, ask the Democrats and ask the Republicans, to please pass this bill. It is so necessary, and it is long overdue.”

Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, joins others during a news conference outside of Police Headquarters in Manhattan to protest during the police disciplinary hearing for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was accused of recklessly using a chokehold that led to Eric Garner’s death during an arrest in July 2014 on May 21, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Gwen Carr, considered one of the original mothers of the modern movement in protest of police brutality, said she is “still fighting” for her son’s case, which she described as “justice denied and justice delayed.”

She continued: “We only have one police officer who was fired. And no one was charged with my son’s murder. I am still trying to get those other officers off the police force because it is just tragic that other nations and other states are taking more action than New York.” 

That is why Carr says the George Floyd federal legislation is so critically important and should be “passed immediately” – as well with federal voting rights protections that have also been elusive in Congress. “Our children are at risk…we just can’t go on like this,” she said.

Carr will be joined by Anthony Scott, the brother of Walter Scott, who was fatally shot in the back by a North Charleston, South Carolina police officer in 2015. Mr. Scott was invited by South Carolina Congressman Clyburn. Congresswoman Bush of Missouri announced that she invited Michael Brown, Sr., the father of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Jr., who was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer in 2014.

In a statement released on Monday, Bush said: “The police killing of Michael Brown in 2014 is what propelled me and many others into lives dedicated to building a world where Mike would still be here with us—a world where his life could not be taken from him. A world where Tyre Nichols and the thousands of other Black people killed by police could live long, healthy lives full of joy.”

Demonstrators participate in a protest against the police killing of Tyre Nichols near the White House on January 27, 2023 in Washington, DC. Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died three days after being severely beaten by five Memphis Police Department officers during a traffic stop on January 7, 2023. Memphis and cities across the country are bracing for potential unrest after the city released video footage of the beating to the public. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The list of CBC members who extended invitations to families and victims of police violence include: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who invited Philonise Floyd (brother of George Floyd); Rep. Troy Carter, who invited Mona Hardin (mother of Ronald Green); Rep. Shontel Brown, who invited Samaria Rice (mother of Tamir Rice); Rep. Bobby Scott; who invited Wayne Lynch (father of Donovan Lynch); Rep. Robin Kelly, who invited Annette Nance-Holt (mother of Blair Hope); Rep. Emilia Sykes, who invited Pamela Walker (mother of Jayland Walker).

Additionally, Rep. Gwen Moore invited police brutality survivor and former NBA player Sterling Brown; and Rep. Barbara Lee invited Pastor Michael McBride, who is a gun violence advocate.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and famed activist Al Sharpton will also be in the audience for Biden’s State of the Union.

While deadly “bad” policing continues to have a devastating impact on families and communities, it is also costing the nation. According to a report by the Washington Post, police misconduct has resulted in $1.5 billion in settlements paid out by American taxpayers.

When asked during Monday’s press briefing about the impact of deadly police encounters on the broader economy, Biden’s political advisor and member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Brian Deese, told theGrio, “​​funding the type of evidence-based interventions that we know work in communities across the country…is both absolutely the thing we need to do as a country, but also has a broader economic dividend as well.”

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