Pelosi initially thanked George Floyd for "sacrificing [his] life for justice"

By Virginia Chamlee
April 21, 2021 07:54 PM
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Weekly News Conference
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Weekly News Conference
| Credit: Samuel Corum/Getty

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly clarified her initial reaction on Tuesday following the guilty verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, convicted of murdering George Floyd

In a much-maligned speech after the verdict was read, Pelosi thanked Floyd for "sacrificing [his] life for justice."

"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 Tuesday evening. "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."

Her speech drew widespread reaction on social media, much of it negative.

One user wrote on Twitter that the remarks continue "the tradition of White people in power seeing us as Black pawns on their ivory chess boards. George Floyd's life mattered before he was murdered."

University of Illinois history professor Barbara Ransby tweeted: "Did Pelosi just say 'George Floyd, thank u 4 sacrificing your life for justice'? He did not SACRIFICE his life. His life was violently taken."

In an op-ed for The Daily Beast,  Philadelphia magazine editor Ernest Owens wrote: "Following Pelosi's logic, one would think that this Black father made a deliberate choice to lie down and be kneeled on for 9 minutes and 29 seconds so the world could witness his death and understand it as a necessary evil for the greater cause."

Floyd, 46, was killed in May 2020, after Chauvin — a white police officer — pressed a knee into his neck for approximately nine minutes while he lay handcuffed and face down on a Minneapolis street.

Millions subsequently took to the streets to protest police brutality and racism while invoking Floyd's repeated cry of "I can't breathe." 

On Tuesday, as the criticism over Pelsi's remarks grew louder, she quickly tweeted a clarifying statement.

"George Floyd should be alive today. His family's calls for justice for his murder were heard around the world," she wrote. "He did not die in vain. We must make sure other families don't suffer the same racism, violence & pain, and we must enact the George Floyd #JusticeInPolicing Act."

george floyd

Vice President Kamala Harris, in her own remarks on Tuesday after the verdict, also expressed support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, urging Congress to pass the measure.

The bill, which has already passed the House of Representatives and now awaits a vote in the Senate, would ban some police techniques that can lead to deadly force, such chokeholds and neck restraints.

Among other things, the bill would also put an end to qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement officers from civil lawsuits, and prohibit racial, religious and discriminatory profiling by police officers.

The legislation's chances in the Senate are less clear than the House, given Republican criticism and the narrow Democratic majority.

Like Harris, President Joe Biden urged lawmakers to back the measure, saying in a speech on Tuesday, "George Floyd was murdered almost a year ago. It shouldn't take a whole year to get this done."

In a phone call with Floyd's family after the verdict, Biden said he would sign the act if passed by Congress, at which point he would fly the family up to Washington, D.C., on Air Force One.