In a phone call to George Floyd’s family shortly after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of his murder Tuesday, President Joe Biden encapsulated how many Americans felt in that moment.
“We are all so relieved,” Biden said, according to a video shared by Floyd family attorney Ben Crump.
But in a speech later that day, the president offered another message, a sentiment shared by a large number of Americans, according to recent polling: A call for Congress to act on police reform.
"No one should be above the law, and today's verdict sends that message," Biden said in a Tuesday night speech from the White House. "But it's not enough. It can't stop here. In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again.”
"Today we feel a sigh of relief," Vice President Kamala Harris said of the verdict. "Still, it cannot take away the pain. A measure of justice isn't the same as equal justice."
"This verdict brings us a step closer," she added. "And, the fact is, we still have work to do. We still must reform the system.”
After a tense few weeks for millions of Americans watching Chauvin’s trial, which followed a fraught period of protests and demonstrations amid an election and a global pandemic, all eyes now turn to Congress to take action on nationwide police reform.
In the wake of recent instances in Ohio, Chicago, and just a few miles away in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, advocates and lawmakers are calling for action from the federal government on overhauling police.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working toward a bipartisan policing overhaul bill, but whether they can hit their self-imposed May 25 deadline — the anniversary of George Floyd’s death — remains to be seen.
Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed optimism that this verdict will provide momentum to police reform legislation. Negotiations are narrowing, but passage is still uncertain.
“We know that this bill must be done, it must be enacted into law,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Pelosi said Democrats, with lead negotiator Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), are open to changes to “get it done” but that the final bill must be “a meaningful” version.
Bass recently told CNN that Chauvin’s conviction “gives us hope” for a compromise on police reform: “I am hoping that we will get it over the finish line and this will be positive.”
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill, which would ban the use of police chokeholds and no-knock warrants, limiting “qualified immunity” protections, and create a national databases of police misconduct, passed in the House last month in a 220-212 vote, but has since stalled in the Senate.
Rep. Bass has spearheaded this legislation, along with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tim Scott (R-SC).
Scott (R-SC), the only Black Republican in the Senate, said there was “no question in [his] mind that the jury reached the right verdict,” adding: “While this outcome should give us renewed confidence in the integrity of our justice system, we know there is more work to be done to ensure the bad apples do not define all officers the vast majority of whom put on the uniform each day with integrity and servant hearts.”
Negotiations could wrap up within two weeks, Scott said. Bass set a goal of passage by May 25, one year since Floyd’s death.
In private, Scott briefed key Republican senators on Wednesday, updating his colleagues on quiet negotiations that have been underway with Democrats for nearly two months.
Republican leaders, including Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have said little publicly of the Chauvin verdict, but McConnell has tapped Scott to continue leading the effort in talks with Democrats.
A Republican bill from Scott does not go as far as the House-passed measure. It was blocked last year by Senate Democrats, a fact that Republicans are emphasizing.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said that the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next month on policing reform.
Biden and Harris, along with a number of other Democratic lawmakers, called for the bill to be passed.
“George Floyd was murdered almost a year ago. There’s meaningful police reform legislation in his name,” Biden said Tuesday night. “Legislation to tackle systemic misconduct in police departments, to restore trust between law enforcement and the people that are entrusted to serve and protect. But it shouldn’t take a whole year to get this done.”
“The President and I will continue to urge the Senate to pass this legislation — not as a panacea for every problem, but as a start,” Harris said of the legislation.
Progressives in Congress are calling for swift action on police reform.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a leading progressive voice in Congress, said that the verdict is only a first step toward real reform: “This verdict is not a substitute for policy change.”
The guilty verdict “isn’t justice,” Ocasio-Cortez said Tuesday in an Instagram Live video. “Justice is George Floyd going home tonight to be with his family. Justice is Adam Toledo getting tucked in by his mom tonight. Justice is when you’re pulled over, there not being a gun as part of that interaction because you have a headlight out.”
“This verdict is not justice,” she continued. “Frankly, I don’t even think we call it full accountability because there are multiple officers that were there. Wasn’t just Derek Chauvin. And I also don’t want this moment to be framed as ‘this system working.’ Because it’s not working. And that’s what creates a lot of complexity in this moment.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) shared Ocasio-Cortez’s sentiment: "This was accountability, but it's not yet justice. Justice for us is saving lives.”
“This verdict is relief & accountability for the murder of George Floyd,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) wrote on Twitter. “But the fight for justice continues. Justice would be Gianna having her father today. Justice is investing in our communities, not police. Justice is no more Black lives lost to police violence.”
Members of George Floyd’s family also called for Congress to pass the police reform bill written in his name.
“We need change in this broken system,” Floyd’s nephew, Brandon Williams, said. “It was built to oppress us. It was built against us. Oftentimes, we see people who are supposed to — supposed to — protect and serve… they do the total opposite.”
“I’m gonna put up a fight every day, because I'm not just fighting for George any more, I'm fighting for everybody around this world,” Philonise Floyd, one of George Floyd’s brothers, said in part.