Senate Democrats, some kneeling, honor George Floyd with moment of silence at Capitol

By:  Christal Hayes

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats stood in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds Thursday at the U.S. Capitol to honor the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, all unarmed black individuals whose deaths have spurred worldwide protests against racism and police brutality. 

Senate Democrats, some kneeling on the marble floors in Emancipation Hall — which is named after slaves who helped construct the Capitol — were led in prayer by Senate Chaplin Barry Black, who honored the lives of Floyd, Arbery and Taylor and praised peaceful protesters. 

"We come today to acknowledge that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Black said in a prayer to a silent hall, only broken with the sounds of camera shutters. "We come with hope in our hearts because we know that right defeated is better than evil triumphant."

Booker honored Floyd's life and noted that it was cut short after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held the unarmed black man down with his knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd, 46, told the officers he couldn't breath and called for his mother. 

"Today, we gather here in solemn reverence to not just mark his tragic death but to give honor to his life," Booker said, as his Democratic colleagues, all donning face masks, looked to the ground and cupped their hands in front of them. 

A handful of senators, including Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, got down on their knees during the ceremony. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's office said Senate Democrats planned the event as a caucus and thus Republicans were not in attendance. 

"This is a very painful moment," Booker told reporters after the ceremony, noting that while lawmakers haven't been able to gather together due to the coronavirus, their huddling Thursday morning was a "moment of solidarity."

Booker said as he stood in silence, standing near a bronze statue of Frederick Douglass in a hall dedicated to the work of slaves, he looked down and read a message carved into the base of the statue dedicated to the abolitionist that he said "really touched" him.  

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress," it reads. 

The ceremony marked just the start of the actions lawmakers are planning in response to Floyd's death. Democrats are planning a host of legislation to combat police brutality and the killings of unarmed black individuals. But massive changes to policing will likely be a hard sell to the Republican-controlled Senate and the president, who in recent days has railed against protesters and called for law and order after some demonstrations turned violent.

Some lawmakers have joined protesters marching in streets, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who greeted demonstrators outside the Capitol Wednesday.