Cedric Richmond spars with Matt Gaetz, other Republicans during police reform debate

During a House Judiciary Committee markup on Wednesday, Republicans were eager to propose a slew of amendments to Democrats’ police reform bill, including some that seemed only tangentially related. Among them: a proposal to scrutinize antifa, and a measure requiring federal law enforcement to record interviews with suspects, which lawmakers tied to former Trump aide Michael Flynn’s purported experience with the FBI.

While several amendments — including one calling for a study of no-knock warrants — were relevant to the bill, the ongoing debate over those that weren’t ultimately prompted Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) to criticize Republicans for their approach. In a fiery statement, Richmond accused Republicans of distracting from the main focus of the legislation — police violence toward black Americans — with political points that weren’t exactly related.

“I am absolutely sitting here offended,” Richmond said. “To my colleagues, especially the ones that keep introducing amendments that are a tangent and a distraction from what we’re talking about, you all are white males, you never lived in my shoes and you do not know what it’s like to be an African American male.”

“If you are opposed to this legislation, let’s just have a vote,” Richmond emphasized. “But please don’t come in here and make a mockery of the pain that exists in my community.”

His comments, which included references to his own experience with excessive force and concerns for his black son, wound up prompting an angry response from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who suggested Richmond was assuming that Republicans in the room didn’t also have children of color.

“Are you suggesting that you’re certain that none of us have nonwhite children?” Gaetz said. Gaetz has shared on social media that he has a son named Nestor, who immigrated to the US from Cuba six years ago.

During the markup, Richmond reiterated that he was not interested in pulling the focus away from the measure at hand. “I’m not about to get sidetracked by the color of our children,” he said.

You can watch the full exchange here:

At its core, Richmond’s remarks were pushing back against a common tactic — lawmakers introducing completely unrelated amendments in order to send a political message — that’s long been used to deviate from the specific focus of various bills in committee meetings. Both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of leveraging this approach in the past, and it’s one that emerges in many markups, which serve as an opportunity to engage in political showboating as well as negotiations on legislation.

House Democrats ultimately advanced their police reform bill — which would take a much more aggressive approach than that of Senate Republicans — along party lines. The Democrats’ legislation includes a federal ban on chokeholds and limits qualified immunity, a legal provision that effectively shields police from accountability — both tenets that the Republican bill does not include. House Republicans have raised concerns, though, that Democrats in the lower chamber rolled out their legislation without consulting them first.

In recent days, as protests over police brutality and systemic racism continue more broadly, some Republicans have made points that avoid confronting the central issue altogether. At a House Judiciary hearing last week, Republicans tried to “both sides” the issue of police violence; at a Senate Judiciary hearing on Tuesday, multiple lawmakers were reluctant to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism.

Richmond’s statements made clear that he was fed up with this unfocused approach, as well as with white Republicans’ insistence on skirting our country’s history of racist police violence.

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