US President Joe Biden has said the conviction of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd “can be a giant step forward” for the nation in the fight against systemic racism. But he declared that “it’s not enough”.
“This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America,” Biden said in remarks from the White House.
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Biden spoke on Tuesday from the White House hours after the verdict alongside Vice President Kamala Harris, with the pair saying the country’s work is far from finished with the verdict.
“We can’t stop here,” Biden declared.
Biden and Harris called on Congress to act swiftly to address policing reform, including by approving a bill named after Floyd, who died with his neck under Chauvin’s knee last May. Beyond that, the president said, the entire country must confront hatred to “change hearts and minds as well as laws and policies”.
“‘I can’t breathe.’ Those were George Floyd’s last words,” Biden said. “We can’t let those words die with him. We have to keep hearing those words. We must not turn away. We can’t turn away.”
Harris, the first Black woman to serve as vice president, said racism was keeping the country from fulfilling its founding promise of “liberty and justice for all”.
“It is not just a Black America problem or a people of colour problem. it is a problem for every American,” she said. “It is holding our nation back from reaching our full potential.”
“A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice,” she said.
Biden addressed the nation after telephoning Floyd’s family following the verdict, telling them:“We’re all so relieved.” He added later that he sought to comfort Floyd’s young daughter Gianna, telling her: “Daddy did change the world.”
This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America. pic.twitter.com/IUjvgxZfaT
— President Biden (@POTUS) April 21, 2021
After about 10 hours of deliberations over two days, the jury convicted Chauvin of two counts of murder and one of manslaughter.
The verdict – and the aftermath – will be a continuing test for Biden.
He has pledged to help combat racism in policing, helping African Americans who supported him in large numbers in last year’s election in the wake of protests that swept the nation after Floyd’s death and restarted a national conversation about race.
But he also has long projected himself as an ally of police, who are struggling with criticism about long-used tactics and training methods and difficulties in recruitment.
Earlier on Tuesday, Biden broke his administration’s silence on the trial, which has set the nation on edge for weeks, saying he was praying for “the right verdict”.
The president had repeatedly denounced Floyd’s death but had previously stopped short of weighing in on Chauvin’s trial, with White House officials saying it would be improper to speak out during active judicial proceedings.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki repeatedly refused to explain Biden’s comments, doing nothing to dispel the impression that he thought Chauvin should be found guilty.