President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris said from the White House that the country still has “work to do” toward racial justice after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd.
The conviction is a rare verdict against an officer in the police killings that have gripped the country for decades.
“We are all a part of George Floyd’s legacy. And our job now is to honor it, and to honor him,” Harris said Tuesday night.
Biden, who spoke after the vice president, called the verdict a “step forward.”
“No one should be above the law. And today's verdict sends that message,” Biden said. “But it’s not enough. We can't stop here.”
Biden and Harris have for months pushed a series of police reforms, dating back to last summer in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder. There has been little movement on those reforms in Congress as Biden focuses on economic policy and infrastructure, and they’re not expected to attract significant Republican support.
The president and vice president spoke with Floyd’s family following the verdict, a conversation captured in a video tweeted by civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
“I think of Gianna’s comment ‘my daddy’s going to change the world’ — he’s going to start to change it now,” Biden said.
“We’re going to stay at it until we get it done,” Biden told the family on legislative priorities around policing reform. “That and a lot more. This can be our first shot at dealing genuinely with systemic police reform.”
Biden told the family that he and Harris had watched the verdict from the White House and that they were “relieved.”
“In George’s name and memory, we are going to make sure his legacy is intact and that history will look back at this moment and know that it was an inflection moment,” Harris said. “We’re going to make something good come out of this tragedy.”
In their speeches from the White House, Biden and Harris called on the Senate to pass policing reform legislation and to confirm Department of Justice nominees Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke, two women of color who’ve faced uphill battles in their confirmation hearings
Biden and Harris leaned heavily into the systemic racism that Black Americans have faced for hundreds of years across the country and called on the government and law enforcement agencies to reform their practices.
“This takes acknowledging and confronting head-on systemic racism and the racial disparities that exist in policing and in our criminal justice system more broadly,” Biden said. “State, local government and law enforcement needs to step up, and so does the federal government.”
Biden and Harris have been transparent about their feelings on the case, both after Floyd’s murder and during the trial. As a candidate last summer, Biden reframed his campaign around the outcry after Floyd was murdered, casting himself as someone who could heal the country’s divisions. He gave a pretaped speech at Floyd’s memorial service, where he talked about the trauma of public grief. And he’s repeatedly spoken with the Floyd family before the verdict, including this Monday.
“I’ve come to know George’s family,” Biden told reporters from the White House on Tuesday morning, with the jury still deliberating. He called them a “good family,” and said they’re calling for “peace and tranquility.”
“I'm praying the verdict is the right verdict,” Biden said. “The evidence is overwhelming in my view.” In his speech Tuesday night, the president called the repeated viewing of the evidence a “trauma” for the witnesses in the trial.
Harris, the first Black woman to serve as vice president, had made the case a focus last summer when she was still in the Senate. In the days after Floyd was murdered, Harris told The View that the “circumstances and evidence” surrounding his death supported charges against Chauvin.
Harris introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 alongside Sen. Cory Booker after Floyd was murdered. The bill, among other measures, would create a national police misconduct registry and make it more difficult for officers to be protected from being sued for their conduct. It would also ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases.
The vice president said from the White House Tuesday night that the bill would bring accountability for law enforcement and build trust with communities. “This bill is part of George Floyd’s legacy,” she said.
The White House’s emphasis on the policing reform act comes after they paused the creation of a national police oversight commission that Biden had called for during the campaign after consulting with civil rights organizations and police unions.
“Let’s say there is a guilty verdict on the highest charge, it will not take away the pain of the Floyd family,” Harris said in an interview with CNN soon before the verdict was announced. “It will not take away the pain of the communities, all communities, regardless of their color or geographic location, that felt sadness and anger in what they witnessed in that video.”