President Joe Biden praised a guilty verdict in the murder trial of the former police officer Derek Chauvin, but called it a “too rare” step to deliver “basic accountability” for Black Americans who have been killed during interactions with the police.
“It was a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see,” Biden said of the death of George Floyd, who died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, and whose death ignited nationwide protests. “For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability.”
Biden delivered his remarks hours after taking the unusual step of weighing in on the trial’s outcome before the jury had come back with a decision, and telling reporters that he had was “praying” for the “right verdict.”
“This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America,” Biden said in a nationwide address.
Biden assumed the presidency during a national reckoning over race and has staked his political legacy around a promise to make racial equality, which includes an overhaul on policing, a central focus of his presidency. He has been outspoken about Floyd’s death, calling it a “wake up call” for the nation.
In the wake of a series of recent police-involved shootings and other violent episodes that have taken place over the course of the trial, he has repeatedly called for Congress to pass an ambitious bill on policing reform, named for Floyd and co-authored by Vice President Kamala Harris.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walk to a lectern at the White House in Washington on Tuesday, April 20, 2020, to speak about the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
On Tuesday afternoon, the White House canceled an earlier speech Biden had planned to deliver on his infrastructure plan so that he could watch the verdict come in alongside Harris and a group of other aides in his private dining room just off the Oval Office.
The jury’s deliberations had been closely tracked throughout the day: In the minutes before the verdict was delivered, White House aides were sprinting through the West Wing, phones in hand, and setting up a podium for Biden to deliver his remarks alongside Harris in Cross Hall. Just after the verdict was delivered, the president was on the phone with members of Floyd’s family.
“We’re all so relieved,” Biden said to a group of people who included Ben Crump, the Floyd family’s attorney. “I’m anxious to see you guys, I really am. We’re gonna do a lot and we’re gonna stand until we get it done.”
Harris, who spoke before Biden gave remarks, called for the passage of the bill that would overhaul how police officers engage people in minority communities.
“Here’s the truth about racial injustice,” Harris said. “It is not just a Black America problem or a people of color problem. It is a problem for every American. It is keeping us from fulfilling the promise of liberty and justice for all, and it is holding our nation back from realizing our full potential.”
Biden can trace his political success, in part, to how he responded to the nationwide protests that rose up in the wake of Floyd’s death.
Last June, as his predecessor, Donald Trump, stoked tensions by tweet, calling the protests a result of the “radical left” and threatening to send in the National Guard, Biden traveled to Houston with his wife, Jill, to meet with Floyd’s relatives.
The hour he spent with the Floyd family effectively created a split-screen with Trump that boosted Biden’s war chest and added momentum to his campaign.
“I won’t fan the flames of hate,” Biden said at the time. “I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country — not use them for political gain.”