On Tuesday, after a jury found ex-Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second degree murder over his high-profile killing of a Black man named George Floyd, former President Barack Obama issued a statement lauding the outcome and pointing to the path ahead for the nation.
Obama began as follows:
‘Today, a jury in Minneapolis did the right thing. For almost a year, George Floyd’s death under the knee of a police officer has reverberated around the world — inspiring murals and marches, sparking conversations in living rooms and new legislation. But a more basic question has always remained: would justice be done? In this case, at least, we have our answer. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial.’
It’s true — Floyd’s murder, which was captured on camera by a teenage bystander, sent shockwaves across the nation. Chauvin held Floyd on the ground for over nine minutes, and the then-officer remained in that position even after Floyd was unconscious due to inability to breathe.
“True justice,” Obama added, “requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently, every day” and “requires us to recognize that millions of our friends, family, and fellow citizens live in fear” about potentially deadly future interactions with police.
The former president added as follows:
‘We cannot rest. We will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system… And as we continue the fight, we can draw strength from the millions of people — especially young people — who have marched and protested and spoken up over the last year, shining a light on inequity and calling for change… Michelle and I… stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all those who are committed to guaranteeing every American the full measure of justice that George and so many others have been denied.’
Check out his remarks below:
Today, a jury did the right thing. But true justice requires much more. Michelle and I send our prayers to the Floyd family, and we stand with all those who are committed to guaranteeing every American the full measure of justice that George and so many others have been denied. pic.twitter.com/mihZQHqACV
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 20, 2021
Legislation called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has passed the House and, if enacted, would create new accountability measures for dealing with police misconduct, although it’s unclear whether the bill can pass the Senate in the near future. Senate rules require the agreement of 60 Senators in the 100-member chamber before moving to a final vote on most legislation.
According to the police reform legislation’s official summary, it “lowers the criminal intent standard—from willful to knowing or reckless—to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution,” restrains the use of so-called “qualified immunity” as a defense in cases involving law enforcement officers, and “authorizes the Department of Justice to issue subpoenas in investigations of police departments for a pattern or practice of discrimination.” Other provisions are also included.
As explained by Lawfare, qualified immunity “is a judicially created doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations—like the right to be free from excessive police force—for money damages under federal law so long as the officials did not violate “clearly established” law.” This principle is relevant in civil cases — in which plaintiffs seek those monetary damages — rather than criminal proceedings, in which defendants face possible jail time. Officers targeted by civil cases can use “qualified immunity” as a defense.