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Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tells U.S. House committee defunding police is ‘not the answer’

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Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo argued to a congressional panel on Wednesday that cutting funding for police departments is not the right response to nationwide anger over police brutality.

"Some think defunding the police is the answer. I’m here to tell you on behalf of our mayor and other mayors across the country and police chiefs across the country and the diverse communities that we serve, this is simply not the answer," he told the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Acevedo, who is president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, was speaking in an emotional hearing called in response to the death of George Floyd, a black former Houston resident killed after a white police officer in Minneapolis kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. A video of the officer kneeling on Floyd sparked outrage and protests across the nation, including in Houston and other major Texas cities.

In the aftermath of Floyd's death, some protestors have called for "defunding the police," or cutting funding for police departments and using the money saved to invest in housing, youth programs and other social services. Acevedo has resisted those calls, however, saying it's a "false choice" to pit funding for police against other methods of investing in communities. The Houston City Council rejected such an idea on Wednesday.

"Defunding the police without addressing the socioeconomic reality faced by poor communities and the disenfranchised and how they are riddled with missteps ... would increase the need for police services," Acevedo said.

Still, he acknowledged the frustration of people who have been protesting.

"We must acknowledge that law enforcement's past contains institutional racism, injustices, and brutality," Acevedo said, speaking remotely from Houston. "We must acknowledge that policing has had a disparate treatment and impact on disenfranchised communities — especially communities of color and poor communities. ... The civil unrest occurring throughout our nation and throughout this entire country is a sobering reminder of how quickly we will lose public trust."

Wednesday's hearing came as the House is marching toward a vote on the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which would ban federal law enforcement from using chokeholds and no-knock warrants, limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to local law enforcement, change the standards for when government prosecutors to prosecute police misconduct cases and eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said the Justice in Policing Act is a "legislative reconstruct ... to do what those who are on the streets — who are young, black and brown, white and Asian — are crying out."

George Floyd's brother Philonise Floyd, was a featured witness at the hearing, and spoke about the pain of losing his brother.

"I couldn't take care of George the day he was killed," Floyd said. "But maybe by speaking with you today, I can help make sure that his death isn't in vain, to make sure that he is more than another face on a T-shirt, more than another name on a list that won't stop growing."

"[George] was our gentle giant. I was reminded of that when I watched the video of his murder," he added. "He called them 'sir.' The men who took his life, who suffocated him for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. He still called them 'sir' as he begged for his life."

Floyd said watching the video "felt like 8 hours and 46 minutes." The officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Wearing a face mask with the phrase "I can't breathe" written across it, U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said it was "good that there was swift action" in the case of the officer charged with the death of George Floyd. Having served as the first chair of the Police Independent Oversight Board in Houston for two years, Garcia noted she has seen various cases that have taken longer, noting it took 74 days for an arrest to be made in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot while jogging in Georgia.

"I stand with black and brown Americans and all Americans across the country who just want to live and breathe without fear,” Garcia said. “We can no longer continue to live in an America that says during the pledge of allegiance justice for all, but then not actually guarantee justice for all.”

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, asked Philonise Floyd whether he, as a black man in the U.S., lived in fear of becoming a target one day, to which he said, "Everyday I walk around I ask myself, 'Am I next?'"

Escobar told Floyd that, as a mother, "hearing your brother call out for your mother" tore her up.

Floyd added that he and his family still need time to grieve the death of his brother, saying he has not even had time for that.

“My brother, he lost his life before the 8 minutes and 46 seconds, he went unconscious,” Floyd said. “His life was gone, they just dragged his body across that concrete — his lifeless body.”