U.S. President Joe Biden said the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd is “a giant step forward” in a case that touched off nationwide protests over police brutality directed at African Americans.
Biden, speaking at the White House on Tuesday, said Floyd’s killing had “ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism” and called on lawmakers to pass police reform legislation named in his honor.
“No one should be above the law and today’s verdict sends that message, but it’s not enough,” he added. “This takes acknowledging and confronting head on systemic racism and the racial disparities that exist in policing.”
Chauvin, who is white, was convicted on murder charges stemming from kneeling on Floyd’s neck until his death. The May 2020 episode sparked outrage over brutality and racism as graphic video recordings from bystanders were circulated, adding to unrest over the repeated killings of Black people at the hands of police.
Under Minnesota law, Chauvin faces as many as four decades in prison, although he will probably get much less time under state sentencing guidelines.
Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday that the case shows the “the system” needs to be reformed.
“A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice,” Harris said before Biden spoke. “This verdict brings us a step closer. And, the fact is, we still have work to do.’
Earlier, Biden told Floyd’s family that he was relieved by the conviction, and hoped that the verdict would lead to broader change.
“Nothing is going to make it all better but at least, God, now, there’s some justice,” Biden told the family in a telephone call their attorney, Benjamin Crump, posted on Twitter.
The world, Biden said, is going to “start to change now.”
“We’re all so relieved,” he said. “We’re going to get a lot more done” on police reform.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the jury “validated what we saw” in video recordings of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck until he died.
“Thank you George Floyd for sacrificing your life for justice,” she said at a news conference at the Capitol where she was joined by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The remark drew some criticism online.
“Because of you, and because of thousands, millions of people around the world who came out for justice, your name will always be synonymous with justice,” she said.
Sen. Raphael Warnock said he was thinking of Floyd’s family.
“Thankfully today they received something that approaches justice,” said Warnock, a Democrat and the first Black senator elected from Georgia. “Obviously, it will not bring George Floyd back. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a turning point in our country, where people who have seen this trauma over and over again, will know that that we have equal protection under the law.”
Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, whom Republicans sought to censure for calling on protesters to “get more confrontational” if Chauvin was found not guilty, told reporters: “I’m not celebrating, I’m relieved.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, said the verdict was a “good example of a system working the way that we hope it would.”
“As a former prosecutor, I tend to trust the judgment of juries,” Hawley said. “So I have every expectation that this jury obviously deliberated for a number of hours, were very thoughtful about it.”
Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is Black, said, “The verdict just reinforces that our justice system continues to become more just.”
Scott said he is continuing talks with some Democrats about legislation to increase oversight of policing that was blocked in the Senate, as the two parties offered competing versions of how to overhaul law enforcement policies in the country.
Biden, on Tuesday night said that Congress should act: “it shouldn’t take a whole year to get this done.”
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