Last week, George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. His death has ignited anger and has been the catalyst for protests around our country, some right here in the First Congressional District. I completely understand why this incident is so painful for so many in our country.
George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight by an officer of the law. The video leaves no room for doubt. Mr. Floyd’s family has every reason to demand justice for the death of their beloved family member. Those responsible for this tragedy must be brought to account, and I was glad to see Minnesota officials move swiftly towards justice, charging this officer with murder.
I grew up in the rural, segregated south in Stewart County, Tennessee. I was a medical student in Memphis when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Out of all this pain, I’ve seen – and am incredibly proud of – the progress we’ve made toward equality in this country. When my mother passed several years ago, the pastor at her church, an African-American woman, spoke at her funeral, and no one thought of anything of it.
That would have been unheard of a generation before. We should acknowledge and celebrate the progress our country has made towards equality. At the same time, Mr. Floyd’s death leaves no doubt that our nation has a long, difficult journey ahead. We all need to understand that our segregated past still inflicts deep pain and recommit ourselves towards equal justice under the law.
As sickening as this killing is, it is also not representative of our law enforcement community. The overwhelming majority of officers are men and women of the highest character who do an incredible job protecting and serving our communities every day. I continually see the hard work our police officers do in East Tennessee, and I am confident that they want officers like this who engage in wrongdoing brought to justice for their actions.
Our law enforcement community has been put under incredible stress trying to keep the peace over the last week, as they’ve been subjected to assault, verbal abuse, harassment, and – tragically – some have been killed in the line of duty. I’m proud of the work they are doing to ensure our communities remain safe, and I thank them and their families for the sacrifices they’re making on our behalf.
The First Amendment gives Americans the right to peaceful protests, and many over the past several days – including protests in East Tennessee – have indeed been nonviolent. But rioting, looting, and arson are not free speech.
Seeing the destruction being caused by some protestors who appear bent on nothing more than anarchy is deeply upsetting and frightening to many. In cities around the country, we’ve seen businesses of all sizes and types looted and burned. We cannot tolerate lawlessness. There is no justification for this destruction. We must restore law and order. Now.
This weekend, we are honoring the 76th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied troops bravely stormed the beaches of Normandy. These heroes fought for our freedoms – including our right to peacefully assemble – and we owe them an eternal debt of gratitude for their sacrifice.
Last weekend, rioters shamefully vandalized the World War II Memorial on the National Mall and other sites dedicated to our nation’s veterans. This is an affront to them and to the memory of all who have served. The destruction of homes, businesses, places of worship, and national monuments cannot continue.
Over the weekend, before the historic space launch in Florida, President Trump offered uplifting words of sympathy and allyship for Mr. Floyd’s family and condemnation for the rioting. I encourage you to read his statement here if you haven’t seen it already.
Finally, we must also be mindful that the coronavirus crisis is not over. It is troubling that so many protestors have been out in our streets without taking precautions against the virus, like social distancing and wearing masks.
Those involved in protests should probably get tested to stop needless spread, because right now our country needs to reopen and get our economy back on track. Many of our friends and neighbors are still struggling even as our state has started carefully reopening over the past month, and it will help no one if protestors’ actions worsen our public health crisis.
Our country’s progress will continue, and we must all do our part to help it heal.