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WASHINGTON – Black members of Congress gathered outside the U.S. Capitol just minutes after Derek Chauvin's conviction in the death of George Floyd Tuesday, calling the guilty verdict the “first step” in achieving justice.
“This verdict we certainly agree with,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, surrounded by caucus members. “But we want our message to be very clear that this is just the first step. We know clearly that justice has been delayed.”
A Minnesota jury found Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, guilty of three charges, including second-degree and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd died after Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes last year.
“This verdict is a step. It's a popping of the lock to be able to get to the place where we can open the door and really start to do the work to save lives,” said Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo. “This was accountability, but it's not yet justice. Justice for us is saving lives.”
The group was joined by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who said Floyd's name “will always be synonymous with justice.”
After the news conference, the lawmakers joined together in a prayer led by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif, told reporters she felt “relief” when she heard the verdicts.
“I can exhale. I can feel like justice was done. I could not have imagined it turning out any other way, But now we need to see what the sentencing is,” she said. “The sentencing should be the absolute maximum. Forty years sounds good.”
Bass, a former chair of the CBC, said she's optimistic the Chauvin verdict will lead to a compromise on a policing reform bill named after Floyd that she's been working on with Republicans, including Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
“I think we're in a good place right now where there's bipartisan conversations that have been happening,” she said. “I am hoping that we will get it over the finish line and this will be positive momentum to do that.”
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act aims to bolster police accountability and prevent problem officers from moving from one department to another by creating a national registry to track chose with checkered pasts. The bill, which has the backing of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, passed the House in March and awaits action in the Senate.
“We 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,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The Senate will continue that work as we strive to ensure George Floyd’s tragic death will not be in vain.”
Across Washington, lawmakers appeared to agree with the jury's decision.
Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said she “heaved a huge sigh of relief” upon hearing the guilty verdict.
“Justice was served. Conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd is a moment of real accountability,” she said. “And there also is much work to be done to get long term justice. And I think about the millions of people who took to the streets to make their voices heard. They couldn't look away from the murder of George Floyd. And I think about all the people who haven't had justice served, (who) lost their civil rights or their lives because of police violence. And that's the work ahead of us.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., also called it “a step toward justice.”
“It takes a lot to win trust back to the people who don't trust our system of justice,” he said. “It's not one verdict that will win trust back.”
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said the verdicts were what he “was expecting and hoped for, and I think they were deserved.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said the verdict “delivers accountability for Derek Chauvin, but not justice for George Floyd.”
“The trauma and tragedy of George Floyd’s murder must never leave us,” he said. “It was a manifestation of a system that callously devalues the lives of Black people. Our struggle now is about justice – not justice on paper, but real justice in which all Americans live their lives free of oppression. We must boldly root out the cancer of systemic racism and police violence against people of color.”
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci