"A moment of accountability": Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin trial
A growing number of lawmakers expressed relief and gratitude in response to the verdict convicting Derek Chauvin on all counts in the death of George Floyd, whose murder last year sparked a nationwide reckoning on police brutality against Black Americans. Congress has taken up police reform legislation, but disagreements over certain provisions have led these measures to stall.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the verdict "serves as an official proclamation of what so many of us have known for nearly a year: George Floyd was murdered by an officer who was sworn to protect and serve."
"We should not mistake a guilty verdict in this case as evidence that the persistent problem of police misconduct has been solved or that the divide between law enforcement and so many of the communities they serve has been bridged," Schumer said. "We must remain diligent in our efforts to bring meaningful change to police departments across the country. The Senate will continue that work as we strive to ensure George Floyd's tragic death will not be in vain."
President Joe Biden addressed the nation Tuesday night, calling the verdict a "step forward" for the nation. But he added "we can't stop here" and urged the Senate to move forward on the police reform legislation passed by the House.
"Today's verdict is a step forward," the president said. "Nothing can ever bring their brother, their father back. But this can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America."
"We can't stop here," the president said, insisting that more must be done to ensure a similar tragedy won't occur again, and urging the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act so he can sign it into law. The president also urged protesters to refrain from rioting and violence, as cities across the nation prepared for the possibility.
Many of the statements by Democrats acknowledged that Floyd's loss was devastating for his family and his community, and the verdict would not bring him back.
Senator Tina Smith, a Democrat from Minnesota, told reporters that the conviction was "a moment of accountability" and "a real relief," but said "there's so much work to be done to address the systemic inequity that still plagues us."
Her fellow senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, noted in a statement that "George Floyd should be alive today, and this conviction will not bring him back to us, nor will it bring us total justice."
"It's long past time the Senate moves forward and passes police reform to hold officers accountable for misconduct, increase transparency in policing practices, and improve police conduct and training, including banning chokeholds. This is the urgent task before us — not for tomorrow, not for next year, but for now," Klobuchar said.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said Tuesday night that "true justice" will come through "real systematic change to prevent this from ever happening again."
"George Floyd's death and our justice system's conviction of that murder gives us that small space to believe we make the difference," Walz said. "The only way forward is through systemic change."
Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, one of three Black men in the Senate, said in a statement that "this verdict did not and will not fix what is so deeply broken in that system."
"Accountability for the officer who murdered George Floyd is important and it is necessary. But it is far from enough. We must also hold the system that allowed it to happen accountable. What are we going to do as a country to prevent this from happening again and again and again and again?" Booker said.
Congresswoman Karen Bass, the lead sponsor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, said after the verdict was announced that the next step was for Congress to pass the bill. The measure passed in the House, but has stalled in the Senate, where it faces opposition from many Republicans.
"We need to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and put it on President Biden's desk," Bass said. "Because that will be the first step to transforming policing."
The legislation would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases and would reform "qualified immunity," making it easier to pursue claims against police officers in civil court. A policing reform bill was proposed by Republican Senator Tim Scott in the Senate last year, but it was blocked by Democrats who argued that it did not go far enough. Although the two bills have many similarities, they differ in addressing qualified immunity protections for law enforcement officers.
Bass told reporters earlier Tuesday that she had spoken to Scott, who was taking the lead on policing reform among Senate Republicans, and said "he's been a straight shooter" in their discussions.
"We have been talking. I'm very optimistic that we'll get it on President Biden's desk," Bass said.
Scott echoed Bass's optimism, telling reporters after the verdict was announced that "we've been working on the police reform legislation and we'll continue to work on it."
"The verdict just reinforces that our justice system continues to become more just," he said. Scott, the lone Black Republican, also said that he was "relieved" and "thankful" for the verdict, calling it a "monumental day."
Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat from Georgia, said that the Floyd family had "received something that approaches justice."
"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," Warnock said.
Most Republicans highlighted their faith in the criminal justice system in their response to the verdict.
"I have every expectation that this jury obviously deliberated for a number of hours, were very thoughtful about it. And, you know, and the defendant, if he doesn't like the verdict, he can appeal. But this seems to me like a good example of a system working the way that we hope it would," said Republican Senator Josh Hawley.
"I am very appreciative of the institutions in our country that that provide for stability and predictability," said Senator Mitt Romney. "I have confidence in the jury and hope that they reached the appropriate conclusion."
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus held a press conference after the verdict was announced, making it clear that the fight for racial justice would continue beyond the Chauvin trial. Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, the chair of the caucus, said that "today will be the catalyst to turn the pain, the agony" into action.
Congresswoman Cori Bush said that "as much as I want to be overjoyed," she believed it "shouldn't be that there's this world-wide wait to find out what the verdict is."
"This was accountability but it's not yet justice. Justice for us is saving lives," Bush said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in the press conference that she had spoken with Floyd's family, and had told them "thank you." Pelosi also said "thank you" to Floyd for "sacrificing your life for justice."
"For being there to call out to your Mom, how heartbreaking was that, to call out to your Mom 'I can't breathe,'" Pelosi said. "Because of you and because of the thousands, millions of people around the world who came out for justice — your name will always be synonymous with justice."
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, also said he felt relieved by the verdict.
"The prevailing emotion that many people throughout black America, myself included, felt when we heard the verdict of the jury announced was relief," Jeffries said. "We were cautiously optimistic that justice would be done, but not convinced that it would be done. And that's why I think we were relieved, but we will continue to be resilient, as part of the effort to pass meaningful police reform legislation, and to literally lift up the principle of liberty and justice fall in America."
Some were succinct in their response to the verdict. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who earlier Tuesday evaded a censure resolution brought by Republicans after she encouraged protesters in Minnesota to "stay on the street" and "get more confrontational" if they didn't see a guilty verdict returned, simply said that she was relieved by the outcome of the trial.
"You know, someone said it better than me: I'm not celebrating, I'm relieved," Waters said.
Adam Brewster and Aaron Navarro contributed reporting.
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