Families of Black people killed by police in recent years, including George Floyd's brother and Michael Brown's father, will attend the State of the Union address on Tuesday night alongside lawmakers advocating for urgent police reform. The push in Congress comes after the recent beating death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police.
The release of video footage, along with the charging of several Memphis police officers involved in Nichols's death and the firing of several employees from the Memphis police and fire departments, reignited national outcry over police brutality and calls for reforms. This includes renewed efforts to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was introduced after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. It was passed twice by the US House before failing to clear the Senate in 2021.
Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee plans to reintroduce the legislation after the State of the Union address and include provisions named after Tyre Nichols that would require police officers to intervene when excessive force is used. A divided Congress will make satisfying current demands even more difficult.
Before Tuesday's address, families of those killed by police attended a closed roundtable with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In a statement, Representative Cori Bush, who invited the father of Michael Brown, whose killing in 2014 by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, ignited national protests over police brutality, said that Brown's death propelled her to build a life where not just Brown would "still be here with us" but "a world where Tyre Nichols and the thousands of other Black people killed by police could live long, healthy lives full of joy".
"We must dismantle the uniquely American racist and violent policing system and deliver an unequivocal, transformative public safety agenda," Bush said.
At a press conference outside the US Capitol, Tyre Nichols's mother, RowVaughn Wells, gathered alongside Philonese Floyd, George Floyd's brother, and Michael Brown Sr, father of Michael Brown, and repeated a plea she and her family made in Memphis, calling for Congress to act. "We need to do something to get this resolved," she said alongside Nichols's stepfather, Rodney Wells.
Representative Steven Horsford, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who invited Nichols's parents to the State of the Union, told reporters that representatives expected the president to talk about legislative action during his address. "We don't want an end to policing," Horsford told reporters. "We want an end to bad policing"
In a statement, Michael Brown Sr praised Bush for introducing the Helping Families Heal Act, which would direct funding toward providing mental health aid for people affected by police violence and for families of those killed by police. "No family, no person should have to go through what my family has gone through. My son should be here. We need change," he said.