WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden called on Americans to turn the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin into a “moment of significant change” to fight systemic racism in policing in his first remarks after Tuesday’s verdict of the Minneapolis police officer.
“No one should be above the law, and today’s verdict sends that message,” Biden said. “But it’s not enough. It can’t stop here. In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and must reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this ever can happen again.”
A Minneapolis jury Tuesday afternoon found Chauvin, 45, guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the murder of George Floyd last May.
Biden called the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, “a murder in the full light of day” that “ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see systemic racism.”
The president said the nation must confront “head on” systemic racism and disparities that exist in policing and the criminal justice system. While state and local governments “need to step up,” Biden said, so does the federal government.
“We can’t leave this moment or look away thinking our work is done. We have to look at it as we did for those nine minutes and 29 seconds,” he said, referring to the length of time that Chauvin had his knee pinned on Floyd’s head. “We have to listen. ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’ “
“Those were George Floyd’s last words. 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. We have a chance to begin to change the trajectory in this country. This can be a moment of significant change.”
Biden urged the Senate’s passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act – named in Floyd’s honor – that seeks to bolster police accountability and prevent problem officers from moving from one department to another. It would also end certain police practices that have been under scrutiny.
“We need Congress to act,” Biden said. “George Floyd died almost a year ago. There’s meaningful police reform legislation in his name.”
“The guilty verdict does not bring back George. But through the family’s pain, they’re finding purpose so that Georgie’s legacy will not just be about his death but about what we must do in his memory.”
Chauvin, who is white, was seen on video pinning Floyd to the ground with his knee for over nine minutes after police responded to a report that Floyd used a counterfeit $20 bill.
Cellphone video of the incident went viral and touched off months of protests in the U.S. and abroad condemning police brutality and calling for racial justice under the Black Lives Matter movement.
Biden speaks to Floyd family after verdict
Earlier in the afternoon, Biden called the Floyd family after the guilty verdict was announced.
“I’m feeling better now,” Biden is heard saying on a phone that the the family’s attorney Ben Crump put on speaker with the family huddled around. “There’s nothing that’s going to make it all better. But at least now there’s some justice. And you know, I think of Gianna’s comment ‘my daddy’s going to change the world.’ We’re going to start to change it now.”
“You’re an incredible family,” Biden added. “I wish I were there just to put my arms around you.”
Biden told the family that he was watching the announcement of the verdict with Harris, his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and other White House aides.
“We’re all so relieved, not to just get one verdict but all three counts. It’s really important I’m anxious to see you guys. I really am.”
Later Biden invited the family to the White House.
More:Derek Chauvin found guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd: Live updates
“We’re going to get a lot more done (on police reform).” Biden told the family. “We’re going to do a lot. And we’re going to keep at it until we get it done.”
“You’ve got it pal,” Biden said when Crump pushed for final passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which cleared the Democratic-controlled House in March. “That and a lot more.”
More:Joe Biden calls George Floyd’s family, says he’s praying for them as nation awaits verdict in Derek Chauvin trial
Harris thanked the Floyd family for their “courage and strength” and showing leadership, calling it “a day of justice in America.”
“And in George’s name and memory, we are going to make sure that his legacy is intact, and that history will look back at this moment and know that it was an inflection moment.”
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.