“Reckless and cruel”: House GOP quietly kills civil rights panel days after Tyre Nichols video

"GOP Oversight⁩ tried to toss out the Civil Rights Subcommittee without anybody noticing," Democrat says

By Rae Hodge

Staff Reporter
Published February 1, 2023 1:38PM (EST)
Updated February 2, 2023 8:21AM (EST)
U.S. Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, delivers remarks during a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on February 01, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, delivers remarks during a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on February 01, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

This article has been updated to reflect the correct race of the officers involved in the video.

House Republicans on the Oversight and Accountability Committee dissolved the panel's Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties amid nationwide calls for police accountability and criminal justice reform. GOP Oversight members shot down Democrats' effort to reinstate the disbanded panel in a party-line vote on Tuesday

Oversight Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., gave no reason why the subcommittee was disbanded but suggested members bring the former panel's roster of civil rights topics to the main Oversight Committee for consideration -- which Comer previously said is already slated to investigate "40 or 50 different things" this session. 

"Let me be very clear. Any topic that's not mentioned in the subcommittee jurisdiction is reserved for the full committee," Comer said. "We can have a committee hearing in this committee on basically anything we want."

The panel's shutdown comes just days after the city of Memphis released video of several Black Memphis police officers brutally beating Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop days before he died from his injuries. Renewed calls for civil rights protections and police oversight quickly followed, with the Congressional Black Caucus and Senate Democrats urging conversations on federal reform efforts. Nichols' family members are expected to attend President Joe Biden's upcoming State of the Union address. 

Along with other investigations, the Civil Rights Subcommittee tackled extensive investigations into the role of white supremacy groups in the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol -- with witnesses highlighting the growing influence of Christian Nationalism in terroristic events.

The proposal to reinstate the panel came from Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas, who pointed at the outcry over Nichols' killing in her defense of the subcommittee. In a Friday statement, Crockett called the dissolution "an abject failure" by the Oversight Committee.

"In the midst of this tragedy and nationwide time of grief, the House Oversight Committee Chairman made a reckless and cruel decision to eliminate the vital Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee when we need this subcommittee's leadership and insight the most. This is an abject failure by one of the most powerful committees in the House of Representatives," Crockett said. "Systemic policing and extremist violence are killing people, devastating our communities, and breaking the hearts of families we took an oath to defend and protect at all costs ... I will be consulting the Chairman and House Republicans to bring back accountability and transparency to one of the most influential Committees in Congress."

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In a later tweet, Crockett added: "GOP Oversight⁩ tried to toss out the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee without anybody noticing, but we won't sit idly by! The pursuit of justice is ongoing and I'll defend our civil rights at all costs." 

Ranking member and former chair of the disbanded panel, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., echoed Crockett's calls in a tweet of his own. 

"Police who break the law by brutalizing and murdering citizens endanger the social contract and become outlaws. We need sweeping reforms to make sure officers act as servants of the law. This is a democratic imperative only achieved by nonviolent political action and organizing," he said.  

Voting with her party during the Tuesday hearing, far-right GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, compared Nichols' killing to the death of Ashli Babbitt. The Georgia Republican then called on the committee to investigate potential civil rights violations of those accused of being involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

Babbitt was shot in the left shoulder by Capitol Police during the Jan. 6 attacks, as she and other rioters tried to break into the House chamber. Babbitt was given medical assistance by Capitol Police and later died at a hospital. 

"I believe that there are many people that came into the Capitol on Jan. 6th whose civil rights and liberties are being violated heavily. And this committee will, I hope, Mr. Chairman, look into those civil rights abuses," Greene said.

"There's a woman in this room whose daughter was murdered on January 6th. Ashli Babbitt ... there's never been a trial. As a matter of fact, no one has cared about the person that shot and killed her. And no one in this Congress has really addressed that issue. January 6th Committee didn't address it," she added. 

"Civil rights and liberties are important, but there is a clear difference between Tyre Nichols and Ashli Babbitt," Greene said in a Tuesday tweet. 

White House spokesman Ian Sams called out Greene's comments. 

"This is what new member of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, wants to prioritize," he wrote.

By Rae Hodge

Rae Hodge is a science reporter for Salon. Her data-driven, investigative coverage spans more than a decade, including prior roles with CNET, the AP, NPR, the BBC and others. She can be found on Mastodon at @raehodge@newsie.social. 


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