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WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden has said the conviction of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd “may be a giant leap” for the nation in the fight against systemic racism. But he said “that is not enough.”
Biden spoke from the White House on Tuesday hours after the verdict alongside Vice President Kamala Harris, with both men saying the country’s job is far from over with the verdict.
“We can’t stop here,” Biden said.
Biden and Harris called on Congress to act quickly to address police reform, including approving a bill named after Floyd, who died with his neck below Chauvin’s knee last May. Beyond that, the president said, the whole country must face hatred to “change hearts and minds and laws and policies.”
“‘I can not breathe.’ These are George Floyd’s last words, ”Biden said. “We can’t let those words die with him. We must continue to hear these words. We must not turn away. We cannot turn away.
Harris, the first black woman to serve as vice president, said racism was preventing the country from delivering on its founding promise of “freedom and justice for all.”
“It’s not just a black American problem or a color problem for people. it’s a problem for all Americans, ”she said. “It keeps our nation from reaching its full potential.”
“A measure of justice is not the same as equal justice,” she said.
Biden addressed the nation after phoning Floyd’s family after the verdict, telling them, “We’re all so relieved.” He later added that he was looking to comfort Floyd’s young daughter, Gianna, by telling her, “Daddy changed the world.
After about 10 hours of deliberation over two days, the jury found Chauvin guilty of two counts of murder and one of manslaughter.
The verdict – and the consequences – will be an ongoing test for Biden. He pledged to help fight racism in the police, helping African Americans who backed him in large numbers in last year’s election following protests sweeping the country after the Floyd’s death and reignited a national conversation about race. But he has also long envisioned himself as an ally of the police, which grapples with criticism of long-used training tactics and methods and recruiting challenges.
Earlier Tuesday, Biden broke his administration’s silence on the trial, which has put the nation on edge for weeks, saying he was praying for “the right verdict.”
Speaking from the Oval Office as the jury deliberated in Minneapolis, Biden said, “I pray the verdict is the correct verdict. I think it’s overwhelming, in my opinion. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury is out now.
The president had repeatedly denounced Floyd’s death but had previously stopped before weighing in on Chauvin’s trial, with White House officials saying it would not be appropriate to speak out during active court proceedings. White House press secretary Jen Psaki repeatedly refused to explain Biden’s comments on Tuesday, doing nothing to dispel the impression he thought Chauvin should be convicted.
The White House had privately weighed in on how to handle the verdict, sending specially trained Justice Department community animators in anticipation of potential protests, officials said. Announcing a verdict on Tuesday afternoon, Biden postponed planned White House remarks on his infrastructure package.
On Monday, Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the trial, warned officials to speak out while the trial was underway.
“I want elected officials to stop talking about this matter, especially in a way that does not respect the rule of law and the judiciary and our function,” he said shortly after sending the jury to begin deliberations.
Defense lawyers often cite remarks made by public officials as a reason to appeal a verdict, in part because they could poison the jury against the accused.
Cahill delivered his reprimand after rejecting a defense request for a quashed trial based in part on comments from California Representative Maxine Waters, who said “we must become more confrontational” if Chauvin is not convicted of murder. He conceded to Chauvin’s lawyers that Waters’ comments could potentially be grounds for appeal.
On Monday, Cahill ordered jurors to be held in an undisclosed hotel during their deliberations and asked them to avoid any news on the case.
Despite Cahill’s remarks, Brock Hunter, a criminal defense attorney and former president of the Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said he considered an appeal successful for comments such as those of Waters and Biden as extremely unlikely.
“It is inevitable that officials will comment on a case and its impacts on communities,” he said. “Unless there is direct evidence that a public official’s statements had a direct impact on a juror or jurors, I don’t think it takes off.”
On Capitol Hill, Republicans as well as Democrats said they were reliving the verdict and predicted it could give momentum to the police reform legislation that has been proposed to both the House and Senate. .
“I think the verdict only reinforces the fact that our justice system continues to become fairer,” said Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican senator. “It’s a monumental day in many ways, in my opinion.”
The Congressional Black Caucus watched the verdict together on Capitol Hill, and members hugged and clenched their fists after the verdict was read.
“The room was filled with emotion and gratitude,” Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson said. “Black lives mattered to this jury. And I am very satisfied with the verdict, very happy with the speed of the verdict. … It is a justification of justice in America.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the Black Caucus soon after at an outside press conference, where she said she spoke to Floyd’s family just before the verdict. She said she called “to say to them, ‘Thank you, God bless you, for your grace and your dignity, for the role model you call for justice in the most worthy way.'”
Associated Press editors Colleen Long, Doug Glass, Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram, and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
Find full AP coverage of George Floyd’s death at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd