House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reacted to Tuesday’s news that a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd by thanking Floyd ― a remark that angered activists and commentators who noted that he did not choose to die.
“Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice. For being there to call out to your mom ― how heartbreaking was that? ― call out for your mom, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Pelosi said at a news conference with the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday afternoon. “But because of you, and because of thousands ― millions ― of people around the world who came out for justice, your name will always be synonymous with justice.”
After footage emerged last spring of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes as he struggled to breathe, people nationwide staged rallies to demand accountability for Chauvin and the other police officers who pinned down Floyd as he died. Protesters also highlighted how racism shapes policing across the U.S. ― making it a system in which Black people like Floyd are twice as likely as white people to be killed by police and in which officers rarely face consequences.
But Floyd did not participate in that movement or consent to dying and becoming a symbol for it.
“He was murdered,” activist DeRay McKesson tweeted in response to Pelosi’s comment.
Writer Mikki Kendall called the statement the result of “a long trail of fail.”
Pelosi later tweeted out a clarification.
“George Floyd should be alive today. His family’s calls for justice for his murder were heard around the world. He did not die in vain,” she wrote, adding that Congress should pass a police reform bill that the Democratic-controlled House sent to the Senate last month. Turning the proposal into law would require an unlikely number of Republican votes in the upper chamber.
Speaking at the same event as Pelosi, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) framed the conclusion of the Chauvin trial very differently ― highlighting the senselessness of Floyd’s killing and how far the U.S. remains from eliminating systemic racism.
“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,” Bush said. “This egregious murder that happened, it should not be that it has to look like that in order for us to have some type of semblance of what people call justice.”
The congresswoman added: “This was accountability, but it’s not yet justice.”