June 4, 2020

We are at a pivotal point in our country. It’s a moment of reckoning. Future generations will carefully examine this moment to see how we responded – to see which path our nation took and what role each and every American played.

Many Americans are taking to the streets – protesting and showing their pain, their frustration, their anger. 

I stood and knelt with those protesters yesterday at the Capitol, as they delivered a clear message for real, immediate change. We must bring that call for action from outside the Senate walls onto the Senate floor to drive change. We need to match their demands for justice by passing laws for police accountability and to root out systemic racism in all its forms because Black Lives Matter

While the immediate spark for this moment was the brutal murder of George Floyd, his killing was not an isolated event. It is not the first time a black man has called out “I can’t breathe” as he was choked or lynched. We can draw a straight line that runs from slavery, to Jim Crow, to legal segregation, to de facto segregation, to institutional racism, to the killings of so many in recent years – George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, and others.

Every one of these individuals deserves justice. As do so many more.

Today, as Minneapolis mourns the loss of George Floyd at his memorial service, we must consider how we got here. The white police officer who looked at the camera as he kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds thought he would get away with his actions because he and so many others had not been held accountable before – the three officers who aided and abetted in the murder felt the same. They thought they could get away with what they did based on their previous experiences. We must change that.

This is a moment that demands real action, real change, and real results – starting with changes in police practices and the systemic racism and institutional biases that have shielded those who engaged in misconduct from accountability.

There are changes we can make today.

We should begin by establishing truly independent oversight mechanisms to ensure that those police officers who betray the public trust are held accountable. We must ban outright the use of chokeholds unless the officer’s life is in imminent danger and use federal leverage to incentivize de-escalatory practices over escalatory ones. We need national standards backed up by real consequences for those who do not comply. And we must establish a federal data bank that tracks reports of police misconduct – not only unjustified killings by police, but all forms of misconduct. These changes are required to protect our citizens, our communities, and those police who are doing their jobs. Bad cops – and broken systems – are bad for good cops.

While the murder of George Floyd and others has again exposed the need for fundamental changes in police accountability, it also cries out for systemic change to address racism embedded in other institutions. The need for additional change does not mean that we have not made progress in our country on key issues of civil rights and political rights – but it does mean that we have a very long, unfinished road ahead to achieve the promise of equal justice, equal rights, and equal opportunity in America.

George Floyd’s murder comes in the middle of a pandemic that has inflicted disproportionate harm on communities of color, especially the black community, because of deep underlying disparities in our society. COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on inequality in our economic, health care, and education systems. The reality is we must put all of our institutions under the microscope and very intentionally root out racial bias and discriminatory impact.

The protests taking place in Baltimore City and counties across Maryland, D.C., Minneapolis and in every state in our country are an expression of the deep hurt and frustration caused by the continued death toll and other harms resulting from our failure as a nation to address the underlying inequities in our society and among our citizens.

I fully support these peaceful protests. I stand by Marylanders expressing this pain and this anger. And I was disgusted to see President Trump disrupt one of these peaceful protests – using tear gas and rubber bullets – to clear the way for his own personal photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. These are actions taken by dictators – not by the President of the United States. The President grossly violated Americans’ First Amendment rights, and we must use all our powers under the Constitution to hold him accountable. 

We have much work ahead to build a more perfect union, but that cause is righteous, and we must act with urgency and determination to live up to the promise of equal justice, equal rights, and equal opportunity for all. That is my pledge. 

Chris Van Hollen

Earlier this week, I spoke out on the Senate floor on the murder of George Floyd and the urgent need for action to eliminate systemic racism in all its ugly forms – watch here.