President Joe Biden on Tuesday called the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin a step forward for racial justice, but warned that such verdicts are “much too rare” and legislative reform must be next.
Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges in the death last year of George Floyd, in a case that has roiled the nation and drawn international attention.
Speaking from the White House, Biden said the conviction can help achieve racial justice in America if lawmakers pass police reform legislation under consideration in Congress.
“Nothing can ever bring their brother, their father, back, but this can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America,” Biden said. “Let’s also be clear, such a verdict is also much too rare.”
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris watched the verdict with staff in the private dining room at the White House. After the verdict, Biden, Harris and first lady Jill Biden spoke with Floyd’s family from the Oval Office, the White House said. Biden told Floyd’s family he was “relieved” about the verdict.
Harris, in remarks ahead of Biden, said the problem of racial inequality affects all Americans.
“Here’s the truth about racial injustice,” she said. “It is not just a Black American problem, or a people of color problem. It is a problem for every American. It is keeping us from fulfilling the promise of liberty and justice for all. And it is holding our nation back from realizing our full potential.”
Biden had expressed views about the verdict before it was reached, saying he was sharing his opinion only because the jury had been sequestered.
“I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict,” Biden said. “Which is – I think it’s overwhelming, in my view.”
Chauvin was accused of killing Floyd last year in Minneapolis, after putting his knee on Floyd’s neck until he lost consciousness. The incident, recorded on video, sparked a wave of protests that swept cities nationwide, with demonstrators demanding immediate changes to laws on police conduct.
The verdict increases pressure on the president and his Democratic Party to pass sweeping police reform legislation, such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is supported by civil rights groups.
The bill would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants and end “qualified immunity” for police officers while boosting federal oversight of state and local police forces.
Biden and Harris reiterated their support for the legislation Tuesday, with the president saying it was a necessary step to “tackle systematic misconduct” in police departments.
Biden called for a “national ban on chokeholds” as a candidate, and the White House said his position was the same as when he was campaigning. The Department of Justice has supported the use of warrantless raids in limited circumstances.
“The same way a reasonable police officer would never suffocate an unarmed man to death, a reasonable justice system would recognize its roots in white supremacy and end qualified immunity,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement immediately after the verdict. “Police are here to protect, not lynch. We will not rest until all in our community have the right to breathe.”
Former President Barack Obama praised the jury for their decision, but said that “true justice” for Black Americans would require more than a guilty verdict.
“While today’s verdict may have been a necessary step on the road to progress, it was far from a sufficient one. We cannot rest,” Obama said in a statement. “We will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system.”
Former President Bill Clinton issued a statement saying the jury “made the right decision.”
Earlier this month, White House officials announced they were abandoning plans to create a commission to study police reform, saying that they wanted instead to put the focus on trying to pass the George Floyd Act.
Floyd’s death and the racial justice protests that subsequently swept the nation were a major issue in the 2020 presidential election, with Biden promising changes to law enforcement but rebutting calls from liberal activists to defund their departments.
Biden, as a candidate, sought to strike a balance between the competing demands of a liberal base that wanted far-reaching changes to police oversight and more moderate voters who generally support the police.
“It was the knee on the neck of justice, and it wouldn’t be forgotten. It stirred the conscience of tens of millions of Americans, and, in my view, it marked a turning point in this country’s attitude toward racial justice,” Biden said of Floyd’s death in January, days after taking office.
In his evening remarks, Biden said that just watching the trial was “traumatic and exhausting” for many people in the country.
“No one should be above the law. Today’s verdict sends that message, but it’s not enough,” Biden said. “We can’t stop there. In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that a tragedies like this will ever happen or occur again.”