The guilty verdict in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin “can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America,” President Biden and Vice President Harris said Tuesday.
That march, they added, has too rarely delivered “basic accountability” for Black Americans.
America has a “long history of systemic racism,” they said, calling it a “stain on the nation’s soul.”
A panel of jurors found Chauvin guilty on Tuesday on all three charges in connection with the May 2020 death of George Floyd — the Black man in Minnesota who died after he was seen on video – handcuffed – saying “I can’t breathe” as Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests last spring and summer over police brutality against minorities and systemic racism.
Chauvin, 45, was charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. After the jury announced the verdict, Chauvin’s bail was immediately revoked and he was led away with hands cuffed behind his back.
Biden and Harris, following the verdict, took the podium at the White House.
Harris, speaking first, thanking the jury, and the Floyd family, saying the verdict brought “a sigh of relief” but “cannot take away the pain.”
“A measure of justice is not the same as equal justice,” Harris said. “This verdict brings us a step closer and the fact is we still have work to do. We still must reform the system.”
Harris added: “America has a long history of systemic racism.”
‘Ripped the blinders off’
Biden then took the podium, saying Floyd’s murder was one “in the full light of day.”
“It ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism,” Biden said. “Systemic racism — a stain on our nation’s soul.”
“The knee on the neck of justice for Black Americans — profound fear and trauma, the pain, exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day,” Biden said. “The murder of George Floyd launched a summer of protest we hadn’t seen since the Civil Rights [era] in the ’60s.”
Biden said that the protests “unified people of every race and generation in peace and with purpose to say, ‘Enough, enough, enough of these senseless killings.'”
“This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America,” he said.
Biden touted officers for “testifying against a fellow officer,” saying they “should be commended,” and the jury who “carried out their civic duty in the midst of an extraordinary moment, under extraordinary pressure.”
“For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just, just basic accountability,” Biden said, adding that “racial disparities” exist in “policing and in our criminal justice system more broadly.”
Policing bill in Congress
Harris, during her remarks, pointed to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which she introduced last summer — along with fellow Democrats Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Karen Bass of California — to “hold law enforcement accountable and build trust between law enforcement and communities.”
“This bill is part of George Floyd’s legacy,” Harris said, urging the Senate to pass the bill “not as a panacea for every problem, but as a start.”
Biden, in referencing the bill, called for congressional action, while saying that the leadership of the Justice Department was “fully committed to restoring trust between law enforcement and the community they are sworn to serve and protect.”
Meanwhile, Biden said Floyd’s “legacy” should be “one of peace, not violence.”
“Peaceful expression of that legacy are inevitable and appropriate, but violent protest is not,” Biden said. “And there are those who will seek to exploit the raw emotions of the moment, agitators and extremists who have no interest in social justice, who seek to carry out violence, destroy property, fan the flames of hate and division– who will do everything in their power to stop this country’s march toward racial justice.”
He added: “We can’t let them succeed.”
Biden said this was a time for the country “to come together to unite as Americans.”
“We can never be any safe harbor for hate in America,” the president said.
Prominent measures include a federal ban on no-knock warrants and chokeholds, limits on qualified immunity shielding police from civil lawsuits, a framework to prevent racial profiling and the establishment of a national registry on allegations of police misconduct.
The bill is awaiting consideration in the Senate, where it is expected to face stiff opposition from GOP lawmakers. The House previously passed a version of the reform bill last June, just weeks after Floyd’s death prompted nationwide protests against police brutality. Republicans opposed the bill and it later stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Meanwhile, shortly after the verdict was delivered Tuesday afternoon, Biden and Harris called the Floyd family, celebrating the jury’s decision.
‘Day of justice’
“Nothing is going to make it all better, but at least now there’s some justice,” Biden is heard saying on speaker phone in a video posted to Twitter on Tuesday by attorney Ben Crump. “We’re going to start to change now. We’re going to start to change now.”
Harris, during the call, said: “This is a day of justice in America.”
Harris added that “in George’s name and memory we are going to make sure his legacy is in tact and that history will look back at this moment and know that this is an inflection moment.”
“He had to sacrifice so much and your family did too,” Harris said. “But we believe, with your leadership and, and the president that we have in the White House, that we’re going to make something good come out of this tragedy, OK?”
Biden, as the jury began deliberations, said he was “praying the verdict is the right verdict.”
Biden, on Monday, spoke to the Floyd family after the jury was sequestered, and said he understands what it is like “to go through loss.”
“They’re a good family, and they’re calling for peace and tranquility, no matter what that verdict is,” Biden said. “I’m praying that verdict is the right verdict, which I think it’s overwhelming, in my view. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.”
Biden also called the Floyd family last year – soon after Floyd’s death, which came during the 2020 presidential election campaign – and later the then-presidential candidate traveled to Houston to meet with the family and express is condolences. (Floyd lived in Houston before moving to Minneapolis.)
Judge slams Waters
On Monday, the judge in the Chauvin trial said that he wished elected officials would stop referencing the case “especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law” so as to let the judicial process play out as intended.
Judge Peter Cahill was referring to controversial comments over the weekend by Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who traveled to Minnesota and urged protesters there to “stay in the street” and “get more confrontational” if Chauvin was not found guilty.
“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” Cahill told Chauvin’s attorney.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell criticized the comments by both Biden and Waters.
The longtime senator from Kentucky noted on Tuesday afternoon that “sometimes a fair trial is difficult to conduct” before emphasizing that “it is certainly not helpful for a member of Congress, and even the president of the U.S. to appear to be weighing in in public, while the jury is trying to sort through this significant case.”