US Congress confronts protests

US lawmakers are addressing police violence and the unfair treatment of black Americans.
US lawmakers are addressing police violence and the unfair treatment of black Americans.

The US Congress has convened with protests outside its door and across the nation, the Capitol already struck by the COVID-19 outbreak now confronting a deepening crisis over the treatment of black people.

The civil unrest over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police combined with the coronavirus pandemic that's disproportionately striking African Americans sparked an urgent plea for understanding from some leaders.

Notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, read into the Senate record the names of black people who have died in recent confrontations. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor.

"To me," McConnell said in a speech in the Senate chamber, and to "millions of outraged Americans, these disturbing events do not look like three isolated incidents. They look more like the latest chapter in our national struggle to make equal just and equal protection under the law a fact of life for all Americans."

As protesters gathered outside the Capitol, the dual crises tested Washington. Some lawmakers urged unity and federal aid to prevent the country from slipping into further conflict.

Others sided with President Donald Trump's threat to use military force if necessary to end the protests.

House and Senate lawmakers swiftly began drafting legislation to address police violence and confront the inequities facing black Americans.

"This has to be pivotal. It has to be transformative. And it has to happen," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democratic colleagues, according to people unauthorised to discuss the private caucus call and granted anonymity.

The Congressional Black Caucus announced a virtual town hall on Friday with civil rights leaders, and House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said the panel is planning a hearing next week on policing, officials said.

After countless incidents of police being called to investigate black people doing ordinary things - most recently when a white woman in New York called 911 over an African American bird watcher in Central Park - many lawmakers agreed public attitudes and police tactics need review.

Yet, some Trump allies pushed for a show of military action to quell the protests now stretching into their sixth day.

"Anarchy, rioting, and looting needs to end tonight," tweeted Senator Tom Cotton. He suggested bringing in the 101st Airborne - an elite Army unit - to confront outside agitators influencing the protests.

McConnell also suggested if state and local leaders can't secure safety, "I hope the federal government is ready to stand in the breech."

Trump's remarks focusing on the possibility of using the military in response to violent protests were widely criticised. Democrat representative Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said: "These are not the actions of a rational, fit, democratic president. They are the actions of a man who doesn't respect the core values of our nation."

Australian Associated Press