June 16 (UPI) -- The Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday held a hearing on policing following the death of George Floyd which prompted global protests against racism and police violence.
The senators heard testimony from two panels, one on policing in the black community and another that Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.described as "folks who can tell us about the other side of the story and ways to go forward."
Graham, opened the hearing by discussing how he personally views interactions with police differently than many black Americans.
"I've learned over the years, but particularly recently, that every black man in America apparently feels threatened when they are stopped by the cops. It is not 99 percent, it's like 100 percent," he said. "When I see a cop behind me, the first thing I think about is what did I do wrong and can I talk myself out of this ticket. There is literally no fear. And I wouldn't like to live in a country where I'm afraid to be stopped."
"I don't know how anyone can read these stories, or see the videos and not conclude that something is radically wrong in this country," Feinstein said. "And we've got to move to stop this epidemic of deadly force against black Americans."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked if there is systemic racism in American policing to which Vanita Gupta, former head of the Justice Department's civil rights division replied that she believes "every American institution has been kind of shaped by these forces."
"I think we all have implicit bias and racial bias," Gupta said when asked by Cornyn whether she believes "basically all Americans are racist?"
Lee Merritt, the lawyer representing Floyd's family, said that he has observed systemic racism by police through the over-policing of inner-city communities.
"When we over-concentrate our black and brown communities, specifically with militarized policing, what you're going to have is disproportionate use of force and incarceration of black and brown people," said Merritt.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., discussed the idea of "reimagining" public safety, amid calls by protesters to defund police and a veto-proof majority of the city council in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, pledging to disband its police department.
"The status quo thinking that more police creates more safety is wrong," said Harris. "It's wrong. ANd it has motivated too much of municipal budgets and the thinking of policymakers has distracted them from what truly will be the smartest use of resources to achieve safety in communities, which is to invest in the health of those communities."
Harris also said that Attorney General William Barr should have been present for the hearing "to answer for his shameful record investigating civil rights violations in police departments in America."
Graham called for the idea of lethal force by police officers to be revisited.
"Shooting somebody should be like the last resort. 'Cause once you're dead, you're dead," he said.
He also was one of the most prominent Republicans to support scaling back qualified immunity protections for officers, which would allow more people to sue law enforcement.
"We don't want to deter people from going into law enforcement. But we also want to have a sense of accountability," said Graham. "And to the extent that qualified immunity fosters a sense of 'It's really not my problem,' let's take a look at it."
The White House, however, has said it won't consider any changes to legal protections for officers from lawsuits.
Earlier Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed the Safe Policing for Safe Communities order, which contains measures requiring police departments to ban the use of chokeholds to receive certification for federal grants and moves to create a national registry to track officers with multiple instances of the use of excessive force.
It also promotes the use of mental health professionals to help police deal with issues of homelessness and addiction.
The Senate last week also began drafting a bill, led by Sen. Tim Scott, seeking the same provisions included in the Trump order as well as the creations of commissions to review the criminal justice system and to conduct a study on conditions affecting black males as well as providing funds for the Justice Department to hire law enforcement officers who reflect the diversity of the communities they cover.