WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden called the guilty verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, “a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America.”
“The battle for the soul of this nation has been a constant push and pull for more than 240 years, a tug-of-war between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart,” Biden said during an address Tuesday night. “At our best, the American ideal wins out.”
Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after the prosecution argued he caused Floyd’s death by kneeling on him for around nine minutes during a May 25 arrest.
Biden characterized Floyd’s death as indicative of discrimination still experienced by people of color in America, while the bystander video of the arrest which sparked nationwide protests was traumatic for all who watched it.
“It was a murder in the full light of day and ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see,” Biden said. “This systemic racism is a stain on our nation’s soul.”
After Floyd’s death launched a summer of protests which Biden compared to the 1960s, the president said his administration would focus on addressing issues raised by protesters, including policing and racial disparities in the U.S.
“The guilty verdict does not bring back George [Floyd], but through the family’s pain we’re finding purpose so George’s legacy will not just be about his death but about what we must do in his memory,” Biden said.
Biden called for peaceful protests in the wake of the verdict.
During a call with George Floyd’s family, Biden said he was “so relieved” Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts and asked after Floyd’s daughter Gianna.
“Nothing is going to make it all better but at least God, now there’s justice. I think of Gianna’s comment, ‘my dad is going to change the world; he’s going to change it now,'” Biden said. “We’re going to do a lot, we’re going to stay at it until we get it done.”
Video of the call was shared online by the family’s attorney Ben Crump, who said the next step would be working with Biden to push for Senate approval of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a police reform measure which passed the House in March.
The bill is being fought by police unions and Republicans who support some reforms like restricting police chokeholds and deploying body cameras, but oppose limiting “qualified immunity,” which shields officers accused of crimes from lawsuits.
The Fraternal Order of Police labor group has discussed police reform with Biden administration officials, but has not indicated support for the bill. The police group is the nation’s largest, with more than 355,000 members. The FOP endorsed former President Donald Trump over Biden in the 2020 campaign.
Civil rights advocates, on the other hand, want the bill beefed up with items like restrictions on the transfer of military equipment to police departments. Biden could also do more with executive orders, some say.
Biden said he would be enlisting the Floyd family’s help in pushing for the measure, including flying them out to Washington, D.C. in Air Force One.
“This can be the first shot at dealing with genuine systemic racism,” Biden said.
Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke to the family, commending them on their “courage, commitment and strength.”
“This is a day of justice in America and your family has shown you are real leaders in this moment, when we needed you,” Harris said. “We’re going to make something good come out of this tragedy.”
Earlier Tuesday, Biden weighed in on the verdict for the first time, although he had repeatedly denounced Floyd’s death, saying he was “praying the verdict is the right verdict.” The president said he was speaking out since the jury was sequestered during their deliberations.
He confirmed that he also called Floyd’s family on Monday and said he “can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they’re feeling.”
“They’re a good family and they’re calling for peace and tranquility no matter what that verdict is,” Biden said.
Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told NBC’s “Today” show that Biden “knows how it is to lose a family member … so he was just letting us know that he was praying for us and hoping that everything would come out to be OK.”
Biden’s administration had been weighing how to handle the verdict, including whether he should address the nation and dispatch specially-trained community facilitators from the Justice Department, aides and officials told The Associated Press.
The verdict is a test for Biden, who has pledged to help combat racism in policing, helping African Americans who supported him in large numbers last year in the wake of protests that swept the nation after Floyd’s death and restarted a national conversation about race.
But he also has long projected himself as an ally of police, who are struggling with criticism about long-used tactics and training methods and difficulties in recruitment.
And the Justice Department has also dispatched specially trained community facilitators ahead of a verdict, according to a senior Justice Department official. The official could not discuss the plans publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
The officials, part of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service, tout themselves as “America’s Peacemaker” by mediating disputes in communities and holding listening sessions to help prevent future conflicts.
A federal civil rights investigation, separate from the trial, remains ongoing. Several witnesses were subpoenaed earlier this year to appear before a federal grand jury considering charges against Chauvin.
The Justice Department’s civil rights investigation has been focused on Chauvin and some of the witnesses, including other officers who worked with Chauvin, people familiar with the matter have told the AP.
Chauvin was prepared to plead guilty to third-degree murder in George Floyd’s death before then-Attorney General William Barr personally blocked the plea deal last year. Barr rejected the deal in part because he felt it was too soon, as the investigation into Floyd’s death was still in its relative infancy, law enforcement officials said.
Across the country, police departments are also preparing for the possibility of rioting or other unrest, with some canceling vacation time and increasing the number of officers available for shifts. The federal government hasn’t detailed its plan in the event of widespread or sustained civil unrest.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday that there has been a request from officials in Washington, D.C., for D.C. National Guard forces in the event there is civil unrest in the nation’s capital, and it is currently being reviewed by the Army. He said the Army secretary has the authority to approve any request for D.C. National Guard but did not have details on the request.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.