The Derek Chauvin trial lasted three weeks and left Black Americans on the edges of their seats wondering if there would be any form of accountability. In the end, Chauvin was found guilty on manslaughter, second-degree murder and third-degree muder charges for the death of George Floyd. President Joe Biden and Representative Maxine Waters both made comments about the trial prior to the conviction. Representative Waters’ comments encouraged a “confrontation,” and for people to go out and protest; President Biden’s comments hoped for a “right verdict.” It is important for politicians to be able to address pressing issues in real time. Speaking during the trial rather than after creates urgency around the issues at hand, and signifies that policy changes need to happen immediately. Politicians should be able to discuss ongoing judicial matters because they may influence political change that could benefit many.
Representative Waters encouraged people to protest if Chauvin was not convicted. Her comments are justifiable because most trials about police misconduct do not result in convictions. The last major police brutality trial was the Rodney King case. In March 1991, Rodney King was beaten by four police officers; this, similar to George Floyd’s death, was caught on camera. All four officers were found not guilty by a jury, and the acquittal led to massive protests in South Los Angeles. Representative Waters’ comments reflect the reaction that many Black Americans had to the Rodney King outcome, supportive of protests that lead to change. The assumption that the Chauvin trial would not result in conviction, and her comments encouraging protests, were rightfully made.
Her comments mentioned a “confrontation,” but Representative Waters clarified in an interview with The Grio that she was talking about “confronting the justice system, confronting the policing that’s going on.” She argued that “The whole civil rights movement is confrontation.” Confronting a system of oppression has historically led to change; Representative Waters’ comments during the trial had a large impact because it was happening concurrently and she was not recounting previous events. While some interpreted her original comments as an incitement of violence, further clarification made obvious that Representative Waters only wants viable change.
President Biden’s comments are also justifiable. The call for a “right verdict” was made with the intention to let Americans know that a conviction would be a step forward for the United States. By making those comments during the trial, President Biden could provide reassurance and guidance to those watching. Many argue that President Biden’s comments could have changed the outcome of the trial, but this is false. President Biden’s comments could not have possibly affected the trial because all twelve jurors were sequestered on April 19th to make a decision, and President Biden made his comments after that date. Because all of the jurors were in a hotel room without any access to the news, any claims that President Biden’s comments affected the outcome cannot be taken seriously.
Politicians should be able to speak about the ongoing judicial matters in the United States because the trials can affect many more people than those directly involved in the case. Commentary about the trial while it occurs creates urgency around the topic and guides the United States towards progress. Representative Karen Bass’ bill, the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act of 2021, was passed in the House on March 3rd, 2021. The bill was passed prior to the start of the trial, but the use of Floyd’s name to title the bill connects it directly to the trial, and comments about the trial may therefore have an impact on the success of a measure to improve policing. Representative Waters’ and President Biden’s comments during the Chauvin trial could influence other policymakers and may lead to viable change, such as Representative Bass’ bill passage in the Senate.