Just hours before, President Biden, after speaking with Floyd’s family, told reporters: “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is, I think — it’s overwhelming in my view.” He added, “I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.” While understandably empathetic and undoubtedly reflective of the national mood, it is never a good idea for the president to weigh in on criminal trials before a verdict is rendered. Fortunately, the verdict came swiftly and vindicated Biden’s assessment of the trial. (The contrived flap over California Rep. Maxine Waters’s statement calling for “confrontational” protests — an essential theme in civil rights advocacy — when she clearly referred to peaceful demonstrations is symptomatic of Republicans’ determination not to recognize systemic racism.)
The Chauvin evidence was overwhelming — so overwhelming that the potential of an acquittal from the jury is a reminder of just how difficult it is to come by such a verdict in police violence cases. Had the entire episode not been caught on camera and a flock of witnesses not been present, a criminal case might not have even been prosecuted — as happened following incidents involving Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor and countless other African Americans killed by excessive police force.
But Tuesday’s verdict, which is likely to be appealed, does not mean the overarching problem of racism in policing is resolved. Daunte Wright’s killing in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 11 and the lawsuit brought against police by Caron Nazario for abuse during a December traffic stop in Windsor, Va. — both of which occurred during the Chauvin trial — were grim reminders that we need dramatic reform and even wholesale rethinking of our criminal justice system (from policing to sentencing to the disenfranchisement of former inmates).
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has passed the House twice, but the Senate remains a barrier because Republicans simply refuse to recognize the existence and scope of the problem. Common-sense measures such as banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants as well as restricting transfer of military weapons to police are an anathema to the GOP, which sees any recognition of the scourge of racism as an affront to its White base. Republicans even respond to noncontroversial measures such as requiring body cameras and implicit bias training with howls of protest. While limits on qualified immunity — which can shield police from any civil liability for their conduct — once enjoyed bipartisan support, there is little chance such a measure could pass now.
Republicans’ knee-jerk rejection of modest reforms that promote a small measure of racial justice is intolerable. Senate Democrats would be wise to swiftly put the George Floyd bill on the floor and dare Republicans to filibuster it. It would be a telling and educational moment for voters who have seen for themselves the grotesque defects in our current system. Passage of the bill is both long overdue and critical to slow, if not entirely prevent, the parade of needless deaths of African Americans that leave the country on pins and needles after each of these events. If not, more George Floyds will be inevitable.