After a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd, Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday that, although she feels relief, there is still much work to do to unravel systemic racism.
“A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice,” the vice president said alongside President Joe Biden. “This verdict brings us a step closer, and the fact is, we still have work to do.”
Harris, who is Black and South Asian American, spoke at the lectern to the country about the significance of Tuesday’s verdicts and how they are still not enough to rectify the generations of systemic, deadly harm put on Black and brown people. She gave her speech before Biden stepped to the microphone.
“We are all a part of George Floyd’s legacy, and our job now is to honor it and to honor him,” she added.
The jury convicted Chauvin, a white former officer, on all three counts after deliberating for about 10 hours ― second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The verdict completed a trial that was watched across the nation, and it highlighted the deeply rooted problem of police brutality and systemic racism. Chauvin could potentially face decades in prison, depending on his sentencing hearing in the summer.
The verdict itself comes just weeks before the anniversary of Chauvin’s murder of Floyd, a Black man, by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes while other police officers also restrained Floyd or stood by. Floyd’s murder, combined with mounting documented incidents of police violence against Black and brown people, led to a wave of nationwide protests last year against police brutality and racial injustice.
“Because of smartphones, so many Americans have now seen the racial injustice that Black Americans have known for generations, that my parents protested in the 1960s, that millions of us Americans of every race protested last summer,” Harris said.
“Here’s the truth about racial injustice: It is not just a Black American problem or a people of color problem. It is a problem for every American. It is keeping us from fulfilling the promise of liberty and justice for all. And it is holding our nation back from realizing our full potential.”
After the verdicts were read, Biden and Harris called the Floyd family to express their relief over the guilty verdicts.
“I am just so thankful for the entire family for your courage, your commitment, your strength,” Harris said during the call, which was posted by the family’s attorney Ben Crump. “This is a day of justice in America, and your family … has been real leaders in this moment when we needed you. In George’s name and memory, we are going to make sure his legacy is intact and that history will look at this moment and know that it was an inflection moment.”
Biden told the family during the call that he was “anxious to see you guys” and to “get a lot more done” to combat systemic racism. In his speech Tuesday evening, the president said that the guilty verdict does not bring Floyd back to life, “but through the family’s pain they’re finding a purpose so George’s legacy will not be just about his death but about what we must do in his memory.”
Harris stressed that the U.S. has had a long history of racism that is embedded into nearly every national system.
“Black Americans, and Black men in particular, have been treated in the course of our history as less than human,” she said. “Black men are fathers and brothers and sons, and uncles and grandfathers and friends and neighbors.”
“Their lives must be valued in our education system, in our health care system, in our housing system, in our economic system, in our criminal justice system, in our nation. Full stop.”
The vice president brought up the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which as a senator she introduced last summer alongside Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.). The bill is meant to hold law enforcement accountable and help build trust between police and the communities they serve.
“This bill is part of George Floyd’s legacy. The president and I will continue to urge the Senate to pass this legislation; not as a panacea to every problem, but as a start. This work is long overdue.”