Black lawmakers in Congress expressed a collective – albeit momentary – feeling of relief after the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who was found guilty for the killing of George Floyd last year. But members said the work to address police brutality and systemic racism is an ongoing fight that must continue with real efforts to reform policing.
From the steps of the U.S. Capitol, the Congressional Black Caucus, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, reacted to the news of Chauvin’s conviction on all three counts, including the most serious offense, second-degree murder. Video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes put the national spotlight back on Black men dying in police custody and sparked months of protests throughout last summer.
Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California reiterated calls for Congress to pass a police reform bill that President Joe Biden has said he would sign into law. Bass is the lead sponsor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which bans police use of chokeholds at the federal level, reforms qualified immunity for officers and creates a federal registry of misconduct. The bill passed the House in both 2020 and 2021, but faces steep hurdles in a divided 50-50 Senate.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, and Rep. Joyce Beatty, react to the verdict in the Derick Chauvin murder trial on Tuesday, in Washington.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
“So for a moment, we have a little bit of relief. For a moment we can exhale. For a moment, I hope that the George Floyd family has a little bit of relief,” Bass said Tuesday. “Step one is the verdict. Step two is the sentencing. And we have been through this too many times to know you can get a verdict, but the sentencing must match the crime that he was convicted of.”
“So now we have to focus on transforming policing in the United States,” she added. “Today I’m relieved, today I exhale. But today just marks the beginning of a new phase of a long struggle to bring justice in America.”
Minutes before the court gaveled back in to deliver the jury’s decision, members of the caucus huddled around a single laptop in the Capitol to watch the verdict, prompting some emotional responses.
“You know someone said it better than me: I’m not celebrating, I’m relieved,” said Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who came under fire from Republicans for comments over the weekend that protesters should “get more confrontational” if Chauvin were acquitted.
About an hour before the verdict was handed down, Democrats blocked a GOP resolution on a party-line vote to censure Waters over her remarks, which she later said wasn’t intended to encourage violence.
Across the Capitol, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate, shared a similar reaction of relief, saying that the verdict should instill confidence in Americans about the justice system while also committing to keep working on policing legislation.
“I think our justice system is getting more just. I’m thankful for the verdict and certainly thought it was murder,” Scott told reporters on the Hill. “The truth of the matter is that this reinforces a commitment that we can have confidence that the justice system is becoming more just.”
As an alternative to Democrats’ legislation, Scott introduced his own police reform bill last year, but the measure was blocked and bipartisan talks on the issue ultimately broke down. But the attention from the trial – and the recent police shootings in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and Chicago – have once again spurred talks to find common ground on policing.