Senate Democrats gathered on Thursday for a moment of silence to honor the Black lives lost due to police brutality, with several lawmakers even kneeling in protest.
After an opening prayer, the moment of silence in the U.S. Capitol’s Emancipation Hall lasted exactly 526 seconds ― the same nearly nine minutes that an officer pinned down George Floyd with a knee on his neck, which killed him.
Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), all of whom are white, knelt as well.
The action comes after a week of protests around the nation and the globe in response to Floyd’s death and hundreds of years of racial injustice, oppression and fear. Protesters have also called for justice for Breonna Taylor, who was shot at least eight times by police in her apartment after officers used a battering ram to enter; for Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased down and shot by two men while jogging in a suburban neighborhood; and for the many other Black people killed in racist violence.
“These protests are an expression of fear, grief, frustration, anger and, most importantly, a call for change,” Brown said in a statement on Thursday. “Our response must be to demand justice for all Black lives lost to police brutality, stand with the people who built this country and work with them to find long-term solutions to dismantle systems of oppression.”
Van Hollen told HuffPost in a statement that he took a knee not only for Floyd but for the many other Black people who have been silenced, abused and murdered throughout America’s history.
“In the grief and anger of this moment, the Senate must support demands for immediate justice and urgently pass measures to ensure police accountability and root out systemic racism in all its forms,” Van Hollen said.
“I knelt today because Black Lives Matter and I commit to being an ally to the black community,” Bennet said in a statement.
Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), one of only three current Black senators, broke the 526 seconds of silence and ended the observance with these words: “George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor. May we honor those dead by protecting all who are alive.”
Since the protests began, Senate Democrats have been speaking out on social media and proposing new legislation to lessen racial disparities. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), along with her beloved dog Bailey, even joined protesters outside the White House on Tuesday in response to the widely criticized use of force against demonstrators there the previous day.
Democrats are also pushing for measures to prevent further violent crackdowns on protests. On the orders of the Trump administration, a slew of federal law enforcement officers have been deployed in Washington in addition to the D.C. police ― and military troops have been gathered outside the city ― during this week’s protests.
On Monday, Kaine proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for the next fiscal year that would prevent the use of military force on Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.
“The President is trying to turn the American military against American citizens who are peacefully protesting on domestic soil, which they have every right to do,” Kaine said in a statement announcing the amendment. “I’m not going to stand for it.”
Many Democrats are pushing for police reform legislation. Heinrich said that such reform, as well as measures to protect protesters’ First Amendment rights, is among his priorities going forward.
“As so many of us engage in critical conversations about systemic racism and inequity in our nation, talking is not enough,” Heinrich said in a statement about why he decided to kneel in protest. “We must act.”