Officials in the U.S. and overseas are voicing wide support for a white police officer’s murder conviction Tuesday in the death last year of a Black man, George Floyd, with President Joe Biden calling it a “much too rare” outcome in contentious confrontations between white police and minority suspects.
Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris praised the decision hours after a racially diverse jury in Minneapolis convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin of two types of murder and manslaughter. Minutes later, he was handcuffed and jailed and now faces years in prison, when he is sentenced in eight weeks.
Biden, who phoned Floyd’s family after the verdict, called it “a step forward,” but all too rare moment of justice. Studies have shown that in most such U.S. cases, police are either cleared of wrongdoing without charges or acquitted in trials.
Biden said systemic racism in the U.S. is a “stain on our nation’s soul,” while saying the verdict “can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice.”
Biden and Harris both urged the U.S. Senate to approve the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that would ban chokeholds and would end the limited legal immunity police officers have from being sued for actions in the line of duty.
Harris said of the verdict, “Today, we breathe a sigh of relief. A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice. … We still must reform the system.”
In Geneva, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday said that "any other result” other than the guilty verdicts against Chauvin “would have been a travesty of justice."
She said also noted the rarity of the outcome, saying in a statement, “As we have painfully witnessed in recent days and weeks, reforms to policing departments across the U.S. continue to be insufficient to stop people of African descent from being killed."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined those expressing a favorable view of the jury’s decision.
“I was appalled by the death of George Floyd and welcome this verdict,” Johnson tweeted late Tuesday. “My thoughts tonight are with George Floyd’s family and friends.”
The police reforms sought by Biden and Harris have been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives but face an uphill fight in the politically divided Senate. Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, objected to Biden’s comments linking the Chauvin case to the pending legislative proposal.
“It was a verdict against one officer based on individual facts in one case,” Cornyn tweeted. “I accept the verdict. No need to slander law enforcement generally, and the vast majority of police officers that risk their lives to protect public safety.”
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone Black Republican in the chamber, welcomed the verdict and said it is time to “help repair the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and Black and minority Americans.”
"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,” Scott said in a statement.
Many law enforcement officials also supported the verdict.
The National Fraternal Order of Police, which has more than 350,000 members in the United States, said the justice system "worked as it should."
"The trial was fair and due process was served,” the group said in a statement. “We hope and expect that all of our fellow citizens will respect the rule of law and remain peaceful tonight and in the days to come."
The 12-member jury — composed of six white people and six people who are Black or multiracial — spent about 10 hours discussing testimony and evidence from the three-week trial before making its decision.
Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and faces up to 40 years in prison, although he could receive a shorter sentence since he has no criminal background.
Floyd was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store last May. As Chauvin and three other officers attempted to arrest him, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
Bystander videos of the scene were widely shared, and Floyd’s death sparked protests last summer against racism and police brutality across the U.S. and in major cities in other parts of the world.
George Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, told CNN it was the presence of cameras that led to a "historic" verdict against Chauvin.
"Without that, my brother just would have been another person on the side of the road left to die," he said.
Since the trial began, crowds had gathered near the Hennepin County Government Center where the trial was held, and at the spot where Floyd died. They cheered when the verdict was announced.
After the jury left the courtroom to start its deliberations on Monday, Judge Peter Cahill criticized California Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters for recent remarks regarding the trial.
Waters told protesters Saturday in Minnesota to “stay on the street” and to become “more active” and “more confrontational” if Chauvin was found not guilty. Cahill called her comments “abhorrent” and that they could lead to a verdict being appealed and overturned.
“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that’s disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function,” Cahill said.
Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday narrowly defeated a resolution brought by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to censure Waters.
After the jury was sequestered with no access to news accounts, but before returning its verdict, Biden also commented on the case. He called the evidence against Chauvin “overwhelming” and said he was “praying” for a guilty verdict. “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict..., the president said.