Lawmakers, Activists and Obama React to Chauvin Verdict

“Today, a jury did the right thing,” former President Barack Obama said. “But true justice requires much more.”,

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Lawmakers and activists react to the Derek Chauvin verdict.

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April 20, 2021, 6:41 p.m. ET

April 20, 2021, 6:41 p.m. ET

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke to reporters outside the Capitol following the verdict.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke to reporters outside the Capitol following the verdict.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction on Tuesday in the killing of George Floyd brought a flood of emotion from the streets of Minneapolis to the halls of Congress, tempered with exhortations not to view the verdict as a victory against systemic racism.

The mood seemed to be summed up in a statement from former President Barack Obama: “Today, a jury did the right thing. But true justice requires much more.”

Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., spoke of Mr. Floyd’s young daughter, Gianna, and called for an end to qualified immunity, which shields police officers from lawsuits in which they are accused of violating people’s constitutional rights.

“While justice has landed Derek Chauvin behind bars for murdering George Floyd, no amount of justice will bring back Gianna’s father,” Mr. Johnson said. “The same way a reasonable police officer would never suffocate an unarmed man to death, a reasonable justice system would recognize its roots in white supremacy and end qualified immunity. Police are here to protect, not lynch.”

Karissa Lewis, national field director of the Movement for Black Lives, said in a statement that the verdict “doesn’t fix an irredeemable, racist system of policing rooted in white supremacy.”

“Minnesota police couldn’t even go the full length of the trial without taking the life of another Black person, and now we’re grieving for Daunte Wright just as we continue to grieve for George Floyd,” Ms. Lewis said. “This repeat cycle of police killings, trials and no real substantive systemic change has to stop. Now is the time for a complete reimagining of public safety in the United States, so that no more fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, children, siblings or loved ones are lost to the hands of state violence.”

Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat who is the first Black person to represent Georgia in the Senate, told reporters on Capitol Hill, “Hopefully this is the beginning of a turning point in our country, where — ” he paused for several seconds before continuing — “people who have seen this trauma over and over again will know that we have equal protection under the law.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus renewed their push, begun in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death last May, for expansive federal changes to policing. Their bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, would make it easier to prosecute officers for wrongdoing, add new restrictions on the use of deadly force and effectively ban chokeholds. It passed the House but has languished in the Senate.

“Today I am relieved, today I exhale, but today just marks the beginning of a new phase of a long struggle to bring justice in America,” said Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California, who is the bill’s primary author.

Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina and the author of a narrower proposal that Republicans made last year and Democrats blocked, has been quietly negotiating with Ms. Bass and other Democrats for weeks. He said on Tuesday that he was “cautiously optimistic we’ll find a path forward.”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said that Americans “should not mistake a guilty verdict in this case as evidence that the persistent problem of police misconduct has been solved, or that the divide between law enforcement and so many of the communities they serve has been bridged,” and he said that the Senate would continue to work toward that end.

But even amid the emphasis on the verdict’s limits, Bernice King, a daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., invoked her father’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“Today it bent toward justice,” she wrote on Twitter, “thanks to the millions of people under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter standing up, speaking up and not letting up for humanity.”

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