The racism angle was conspicuously absent from the Derek Chauvin courtroom drama, but not the post-trial push by Democrats for ambitious policing legislation.
President Biden and other Democrats wasted no time after Tuesday’s guilty verdict in trying to link George Floyd’s murder to “systemic racism,” rewriting the prosecution narrative as part of a full-court press for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
Mr. Biden called Floyd’s death “a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism … that is a stain our nation’s soul” and “the knee on the neck of justice for Black Americans.”
“The jury has reached a just verdict. But nothing will bring back George Floyd or all those who should still be alive,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat. “We must move urgently to defeat systemic racism in all its forms and the Senate must pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
Certainly, everyone is entitled to their opinion on what motivated Chauvin, who was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, but the rush to attribute the crime to racism bore little resemblance to what played out in the Minneapolis courtroom.
Hennepin County prosecutors never sought to prove that the former Minneapolis police officer was racist or acted out of racial animus when he killed the 46-year-old Floyd, nor did they include racial bias as one of their aggravating factors for sentencing.
Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson, who followed the trial as part of the coverage on his Legal Insurrection website, noted that Minnesota sentencing guidelines list “racial discrimination” as a potential aggravating factor.
“There were no accusations by the prosecution that racism was a factor in the George Floyd case,” Mr. Jacobson said in an email. “Activists have exploited Floyd’s death for other purposes since the day of the incident, and that is continuing post-verdict.”
Rep. Byron Donalds, Florida Republican, lashed out Wednesday at Democrats for leveraging the jury’s guilty verdict to promote their legislative agenda, calling it “disgusting.”
“They don’t care about what’s happened yesterday,” Mr. Donalds said on Fox News. “They couldn’t wait to get past the verdict. Once the verdict came in, they were poised to use the verdict to springboard to the thing they really want, which is passing their agenda. It’s really that simple.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came under fire for her lack of subtlety, tweeting that Floyd “did not die in vain” and thanking him at a Tuesday press conference for “sacrificing your life for justice.”
“We must make sure other families don’t suffer the same racism, violence & pain, and we must enact the George Floyd #JusticeInPolicingAct,” she tweeted.
Critics pointed out that Floyd was murdered, whereas sacrifice implies he had a choice.
Mr. Donalds called her statement “absolutely despicable, and proof positive that the only thing Nancy Pelosi wants is to pass her agenda.”
The policing legislation, which passed the House last month, was seen previously as dead on arrival in the 50-50 Senate, but Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, said Wednesday that the parties are nearing a deal.
“I think we are on the verge of wrapping this up in the next week or two depending on how quickly they respond to our suggestions,” Mr. Scott said.
Looming as a deal-breaker is the eradication of qualified immunity for law enforcement, which has become a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter and other activist groups, but which Mr. Scott said is “off the table for me.”
In addition to eliminating qualified immunity for officers, the bill would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants; end “racial and religious profiling” and establish a national database of police misconduct.
Mr. Biden made a direct appeal Tuesday for the bill, saying he wants to “sign it into law as quickly as possible.”
Others followed the president’s lead. “George Floyd should still be alive — and we must keep fighting to dismantle systemic racism and fundamentally transform our nation’s justice system,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat.
“Today, a jury delivered justice and accountability for the murder of George Floyd,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat. “While I feel a sense of relief about today’s verdict, systemic racism and disparate policing still exist in the U.S. — necessitating the urgent passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday the president plans to use his address to a joint session of Congress to “elevate the issue,” but also wants to give lawmakers room to negotiate a compromise.
She refused to clarify whether the president would support a bill that does not end qualified immunity for police.
“Once they come to an agreement, and we are certainly hopeful they will do that, we will have to take a look at what that looks like,” Ms. Psaki said.
She also connected racism to the shooting death of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, who was killed by an officer as she attacked another girl with a knife on Tuesday, the same day as the Chauvin verdict.
“We know that police violence disproportionately impacts Black and Latino people in communities, and that Black women and girls, like Black men and boys, experience higher rates of police violence,” said Ms. Psaki after being asked about the shooting.
“So our focus is on working to address systemic racism and implicit bias head-on, and of course to passing laws and legislation that will put much-needed reforms into place at police departments around the country,” she said.
Some Democrats worried that the guilty verdict in the Floyd case could result in a loss of momentum for structural law-enforcement changes after last year’s protests and riots sparked by Floyd’s death May 25 as Chauvin kneeled on his back or neck for more than nine minutes.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, urged her followers on Instagram to “keep pushing and keep fighting.”
“This doesn’t end until we address the massive, systemic, institutional racism in the United States that accepts our Black brothers and sisters, our brown brothers and sisters, our native brothers and sisters as less than human,” she said.
Not everyone on the left is a fan of the policing bill. The Movement for Black Lives has come out against the George Floyd act, saying that it focuses on reforming police instead of making “upfront investments in communities and people.”
⦁ Dave Boyer, Seth McLaughlin and David Sherfinski contributed to this report.