President Biden on Tuesday praised the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd, but also accused the United States of deep-seated âsystemic racismâ as he said the guilty verdict was âtoo rare.â
âIt was a murder in the full light of day. And it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism the vice president just referred to,â Biden said in an evening speech at the White House.
âThe systemic racism that’s a stain on our nationâs soul â the knee on the neck of justice for black Americans â profound fear and trauma, the pain, the exhaustion that black and brown Americans experience every single day.”
Biden called on Congress to pass a Democratic police reform bill named after Floyd, who died in May 2020 after Chauvin knelt on his neck for 9 minutes. The bill would ban chokeholds and do away with âqualified immunityâ for law enforcement, among other reforms.
Biden said “this can be a moment of significant change” and “we also need Congress to act. George Floyd was murdered almost a year ago. There’s meaningful police reform legislation in his name.”
âNothing can ever bring their brother, their father back. But this can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America,” Biden said.
“Letâs also be clear that such a verdict is also much too rare. For so many people, it seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors. A brave young woman with a smartphone camera, a crowd that was traumatized… a murder that last almost 10 minutes in broad daylight for ultimately the whole world to see.”
The comments came a day after his Attorney General Merrick Garland said racism is an âAmerican problem,â adding that he does not believe America has equal justice under the law.
The comments came a day after hisÂ Attorney General Merrick Garland said racism is an âAmerican problem” andÂ that he does not believe America has equal justice under the law.
âLook, racism is an American problem,â GarlandÂ told ABC News. âItâs plain to me that there has been and remains discrimination against African Americans and other communities of color, and other ethnic minorities. I think itâs reflected in discrimination in housing and employment and the justice system. We do not yet have equal justice under law.â
âThis is an important part of the role of the Justice Department, to help bring it about,â Garland added.
The Chauvin verdict won bipartisan praise in Washington, and relief across the country due to the presumed reduced risk of violent civil unrest if Chauvin was acquitted. Last year, rioting after Floydâs death causedÂ up to $2 billion in damage, according toÂ insuranceÂ estimates.
Biden also used his speech to call for peace as crowds gathered to celebrate the verdict in major cities â and said “most” police officers aren’t responsible for abuses.
“Most men and women who wear the badge serve their communities honorably. But those few who fail to meet that standard must be held accountable, and they were today. One was,” Biden said.
Biden said “there are those who will seek to exploit the raw emotions of the moment â agitators and extremists who have no interest in social justice, who seek to carry out violence, destroy property, fan the flames of hate and division who will do everything in their power to stop this country’s march toward racial justice. We can’t let them succeed.”
But Biden’s invocation of “systemic racism” drew conservative criticism. The president has faced accusations himself of facilitating racial inequality with harsh drug laws he wrote in the 1980s and ’90s.
“The always divisive Joe Biden attacks the United States for ‘systemic racism’ – the confused foggy President having no idea that the vast majority of police shooting victims are white and that he was the one who ran this system for 47 years,”Â tweetedÂ 710 WOR radio host Mark Simone.
Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson noted that dozens of supporters of former President Donald Trump are in jail for “trespassing” during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. “Nobody you know is for prison reform when it’s their political enemies. That’s not equal justice,” he said.
Carlson called “systemic racism” a term “that neither Joe Biden nor anyone else who uses it has ever defined with any precision whatsoever.”
Retired Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is black, said in an appearance on Fox News, “I do believe that it’s not fair to say that all policing is bad or that all America is bad.”
But elected Republicans initially withheld criticism of Biden. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) was asked in a Fox News appearance of his thoughts on the verdict and Biden’s response, and focused praise on the legal process.
Vice President Kamala HarrisÂ also used the word “systemic”Â in remarks introducing Biden, saying that âAmerica has a long history of systemic racism. Black Americans and black men in particular have been treated throughout the course of our history as less than human.”
Harris said: âBlack men are fathers and brothers and sons. And uncles and grandfathers and friends and neighbors. Their lives must be valued in our education system, in our healthcare system, in our housing system, in our economic system, in our criminal justice system, in our nation. Full stop.â
“Hereâs the truth about racial injustice: It is not just a black America problem or a people of color problem,” Harris added.
“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.â
Biden said earlier Tuesday that he was âprayingâ for conviction as the jury deliberated.
The verdict won bipartisan praise in Washington, and relief across the country due to the presumed reduced risk of violent civil unrest if Chauvin was acquitted. Last year, rioting after Floyd’s death caused up to $2 billion in damage, according to insurance estimates.
Biden and Harris spoke with Floyd’s family by phone shortly after the verdict. Attorney Ben Crump tweeted a video with audio of the conversation.
“Nothing is going to make it better, but at least now there’s some justice,” Biden told a group of Floyd family members and supporters.
“I’m standing here with Cedric [Richmond]. We’ve been talking, we’ve been watching every second of this, and the vice president, all of us. And I’m just, we’re all so relieved. Not just one guilty, but all three â guilty on all three counts. And it’s really important.”
Biden added, “This can be a first shot at dealing with genuine systemic racism.” As a senator, Biden authored harsh drug laws that critics say fueled systemic racism.
Harris told the family on the call from the Oval Office, “This is a day of justice in America and your family has been real leaders at this moment when we needed you.”
Harris added, “In George’s name and memory, we are going to make sure his legacy is intact, and the history will look back at this moment and know that it was an inflection moment.”
Biden said in apparent response to a male speaker urging passage of the Democratic police reform bill, “You better all get ready, because when we do it, we’re going to put you on Air Force One to get you here… I guarantee it.”
Biden also spoke with Gov. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) after the jury verdict, the White House said.
Bidenâs statement that he was praying for conviction drew condemnation from some Republicans and scrutiny from reporters, who pressed White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on the wisdom of his remarks after the judge in the case called on politicians to stop commenting on the pending outcome.
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