Biden to America after Floyd verdict: ‘We can’t stop here’

Photo: AP People celebrate as the verdict is announced in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on 20 April 2021.

President Joe Biden 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.”

Biden spoke 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.

After three weeks of testimony, the jury in the high-profile trial of the white former police officer Derek Chauvin found him guilty on Tuesday of second degree murder, third degree murder and manslaughter in the death of African-American George Floyd.

A crowd gathered outside the heavily guarded downtown Minneapolis courtroom erupted in cheers, and some wept tears of relief, when the verdicts were announced after a three-week trial that had an entire nation on edge.

Biden and Harris called on Congress to act swiftly to address policing reform, including by approving a bill named for 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 color 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.”

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 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.”

Speaking from the Oval Office while the jury was deliberating in Minneapolis, Biden said, “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict. I think it’s overwhelming, in my view. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.”

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.

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