WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden said on Tuesday (Apr 20) that he is “praying the verdict is the right verdict” in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin and that he believed the case, which has gone to the jury and put the nation on edge, to be “overwhelming".
Biden, ahead of a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office, told reporters that he was only weighing in on the trial into the death of George Floyd, who died with Chauvin's knee on his neck, because the jury in the case had been sequestered. He confirmed that he called Floyd's family on Monday to offer prayers and said he “can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they’re feeling".
“They’re a good family and they’re calling for peace and tranquillity no matter what that verdict is,” Biden said. "I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict. It’s overwhelming, in my view. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.”
The president has repeatedly denounced Floyd's death but had previously stopped short of weighing in on the trial itself. His comments came as his administration has been privately weighing how to handle the upcoming verdict, including considering whether Biden should address the nation and dispatching specially trained community facilitators from the Justice Department, aides and officials told The Associated Press.
The jury resumed deliberations on Tuesday morning after spending a few hours on Monday discussing the case behind closed doors. In closing arguments earlier in the day, a prosecutor told jurors that Chauvin “had to know” he was squeezing the life out of George Floyd as he cried over and over that he couldn’t breathe and finally fell silent. Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges.
The plans for possible presidential remarks are still fluid, with the timing, venue and nature of the remarks still being considered, in part depending on the timing of the verdict, according to two White House aides who were not authorised to speak publicly about private conversations and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
The White House has been warily watching the trial proceed in Minneapolis - and then another shooting of a black man by a white police officer last week - and are preparing for the possibility of unrest if a guilty verdict is not reached in the trial. Biden may also speak after a guilty verdict, the White House aides said.
Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told NBC's “Today” show that Biden “knows how it is to lose a family member ... so he was just letting us know that he was praying for us and hoping that everything would come out to be OK".
The verdict - and the aftermath - will be a test for Biden, who has pledged to help combat racism in policing, helping African Americans who supported him in large numbers last year in the wake of protests that swept the nation after Floyd’s death and restarted a national conversation about race. But he also has long projected himself as an ally of police, who are struggling with criticism about long-used tactics and training methods and difficulties in recruitment.
Psaki said Monday that the White House has had a “range of conversations” about preparations for the upcoming verdict and added, “Our objective is to ensure there is space for peaceful protest."
“Of course we’ll let the jury deliberate and we’ll wait for the verdict to come out before we say more about our engagements,” Psaki said.
Psaki said administration officials have been in contact with leaders in Minnesota and in other cities and states that saw unrest after Floyd’s death last year.
She declined to answer if Biden would be “disappointed” if a not guilty verdict was reached. She said that Americans could expect to hear from the president soon after the verdict, no matter what it is.
Judge Pete Cahill said on Monday after closing argument were done, rejecting a defence request for a mistrial based in part on comments from California Representative Maxine Waters, who said “we’ve got to get more confrontational” if Chauvin isn’t convicted of murder. He framed it as politicians in general.
“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function," said Cahill. "I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so in a respectful and in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution to respect a coequal branch of government. Their failure to do so, I think, is abhorrent."
Meanwhile, the FBI and the US attorney’s office in Minnesota have been working with local officials to support law enforcement as they prepare for the possibility of unrest after the verdict, officials said.
And the Justice Department has also dispatched specially trained community facilitators ahead of a verdict, according to a senior Justice Department official. The official could not discuss the plans publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
The officials, part of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service, tout themselves as “America’s Peacemaker” by mediating disputes in communities and holding listening sessions to help prevent future conflicts.
A federal civil rights investigation, separate from the trial, remains ongoing. Several witnesses were subpoenaed earlier this year to appear before a federal grand jury considering charges against Chauvin.
The Justice Department’s civil rights investigation has been focused on Chauvin and some of the witnesses, including other officers who worked with Chauvin, people familiar with the matter have told the AP.
Chauvin was prepared to plead guilty to third-degree murder in George Floyd’s death before then-Attorney General William Barr personally blocked the plea deal last year. Barr rejected the deal in part because he felt it was too soon, as the investigation into Floyd’s death was still in its relative infancy, law enforcement officials said.
Across the country, police departments are also preparing for the possibility of rioting or other unrest, with some cancelling vacation time and increasing the number of officers available for shifts. The federal government hasn't detailed its plan in the event of widespread or sustained civil unrest.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that there has been a request from officials in Washington, DC, for DC National Guard forces in the event there is civil unrest in the nation's capital, and it is currently being reviewed by the Army. He said the Army secretary has the authority to approve any request for DC National Guard but did not have details on the request.