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Black Caucus: Guilty verdict a 'catalyst' for police reform

Emotional Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members on Tuesday cheered a jury’s decision to find former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, but they said the moment now demands that Congress take the next step: enacting criminal justice reform.

“This is just the first step,” Rep. Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyAdvocates warn against complacency after Chauvin verdict Democrats demand Biden administration reopen probe into Tamir Rice's death DOJ to probe Minneapolis police MORE (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said moments after the verdict was announced. “We are hopeful that today will be the catalyst to turn the pain, the agony, the justice delays into actions that go far beyond today.”

Those actions primarily focus on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which the House passed on March 3 mostly along party lines. Named for Floyd, a Black man who died last year after Chauvin knelt on his neck, the sweeping police reform package would, among other things, prohibit racial profiling at every level of law enforcement; ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level; and overhaul qualified immunity, which provides police officers and other officials protections from lawsuits.  

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Senate Republicans, however, have dismissed the Democrats’ George Floyd bill as too broad. And it’s unclear whether the two sides can reach an agreement to break a GOP filibuster and overhaul the criminal justice system.

CBC leaders said they are undeterred.

“Since the trial started on March 29, 63 people have died at the hands of police. In my opinion this is the human rights issue in the United States of America,” said Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassShining a light on COINTELPRO's dangerous legacy Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Police reform talks ramp up amid pressure from Biden, families MORE (D-Calif.), the immediate past CBC chairwoman. “And the point is that we need to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, put it on President BidenJoe BidenSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote Shining a light on COINTELPRO's dangerous legacy MORE's desk, because that will be the first step to transforming policing."

“So today, I am relieved today. I exhale,” Bass continued. “But today just marks the beginning of a new phase of a long struggle to bring justice in America.”

Beatty and Bass spoke at a news conference outside the Capitol, flanked by roughly 20 fellow CBC members. Moments earlier, they had clasped arms and huddled in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol, watching a laptop and their mobile phones as the judge informed the courtroom that the jury had found Chauvin guilty on all three charges he faced.

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There were muffled cheers and sighs of relief. After a CBC procession descended the Capitol steps, they hugged and shed tears of joy. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a Methodist minister, led them in a prayer. 

Another Missouri Democrat, freshman Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a Black Lives Matter activist, told reporters this fight for criminal justice is about survival for African Americans.

“We want our children to grow up; we want to survive. We want to have the same quality of life as other folks get,” Bush said. “And so 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.”