Black lawmakers revive calls for justice for victims of police violence after Chauvin verdict

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Alex Woodward
·3 min read
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 (AP)
(AP)

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus revived calls for Congress to pass a sweeping police reform legislation backed by the White House following Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdicts for the killing of George Floyd.

“This is just the first step,” said Caucus chair Joyce Beatty, surrounded by lawmakers at the Capitol on Tuesday.

“We know clearly that justice has been delayed,” she said. “We will continue to say all of the names, we will fight continuously for all of those who died and who were injured senselessly by law enforcement … The mothers, the families, the children who are shedding tears today because the verdict will not bring back their family members.”

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would overhaul “qualified immunity” policies, change the threshold for permitting use of force, prohibit police chokeholds at the federal level, ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases, and create a national registry of police misconduct cases under the auspices of the Justice Department, among other reforms. It does not “defund” police departments.

The House of Representatives passed a version of the bill last month without any Republican support on a vote of 220 to 212. A similar bill was passed in 2020 but languished in a then-GOP-controlled Senate.

Joe Biden has also urged Congress to pass the bill, which could face stiff opposition from Republicans in an evenly divided Senate. But lawmakers hope to secure a bipartisan package with a growing urgency for criminal justice reforms after high-profile killings of Black Americans by police.

The White House quietly abandoned plans for a national commission on police oversight to focus on the legislation.

Last week, Domestic Policy Council director Susan Rice said a commission would not be the “most effective way” to implement those reforms, based on “close, respectful consultation” with civil rights groups

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week that “the president’s view is that there are necessary outdated reforms that should be put in place, that there is accountability that needs to happen, that the loss of life is far too high, that these families are suffering around the country, that the Black community is exhausted from the ongoing threats they feel”.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who also stood with lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon following the verdict, said she spoke with Mr Floyd’s family to say “thank you, God bless you, for your grace and your dignity”.

“They were in search of justice then, and now they see this giant step. But as my colleagues have said, it is not over,” she said. “Thank God the jury validated what we saw.”

Now-former Minneapolis police officer Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He could face up to 40 years in prison. He was immediately ordered to prison following the verdict.

The verdict on 20 April followed three weeks of testimony and nine hours of deliberation, nearly one year after Mr Floyd’s death on 25 May, 2020, which captured in painful video that revived an international protest movement to hold police accountable for the killings of Black people.

A 12-person jury heard from 45 witnesses in total, including 38 from the prosecution and seven from the defence.

Of the 12 jurors, six are white, four are Black and two are multiracial.

US Rep Cori Bush – a freshman congresswoman and Black Lives Matter organiser – said Tuesday’s verdict “is the popping of the lock” to “open the door and save lives” from police violence.

“We can call it murder now,” she said. “This was accountability but it was not justice. Justice for us is saving lives.”

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