After nearly a year since George Perry Floyd, Jr.’s death ignited renewed calls for police reform and racial justice, the man who killed him, former officer Derek Chauvin, was found guilty of his murder.
A 12-person jury convicted the former Minneapolis police officer on all three counts against him: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
The jury reached its verdict after only 10 hours of deliberation. They began at 4 pm on Monday, worked until 8 pm that evening, and then continued early Tuesday morning until they reached a verdict in the afternoon.
The trial and guilty verdict of Chauvin are history-making. This is the first time in state history that a White police officer has been convicted of killing a Black man. It’s only the second time in modern state history that a police officer has been convicted of murder, following the murder conviction of Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. This was also the first time in state history that cameras were allowed in the courtroom.
As he appeared for almost the entire trial, Chauvin was mostly emotionless as the guilty verdict was read and he was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the trial, said sentencing will take place in eight weeks. The trial for the three other officers involved in the fatal arrest is scheduled for August.
Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, after police were called to Cup Foods in South Minneapolis over his alleged use of a fake $20 bill. In videos shot by bystanders, Chauvin could be seen with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds while three other officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane either held him down or kept watch.
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The police statement filed right after Floyd’s death omitted any mention of Chauvin’s kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Instead, it described Floyd as dying of an apparent “medical incident.”
But in the videos, Floyd could be seen and heard pleading for his life, crying out for his mother, and begging for mercy from the former police officers who failed to get off of him or render aid even after Floyd became unconscious and unresponsive.
It was the bystanders’ videos that helped to spark calls for police and criminal justice system reform both nationally and internationally and played a key role in the trial. Witness after witness shared their feelings of survivor’s guilt, helplessness, and the struggle to come to grips with what they witnessed as Floyd lost his life that fateful Memorial Day.
They may have felt powerless that day, but the bystanders’ painful experiences were not in vain, as they helped bring Floyd’s murderer to justice.
Many weighed in on the verdict expressing relief while acknowledging that more work is needed to bring about real change. “No verdict can bring George back, and my heart is with his family as they continue to grieve his loss,” said Gov. Tim Walz in a statement. “Minnesota mourns with you, and we promise the pursuit of justice for George does not end today.
“True justice for George only comes through real, systemic change to prevent this from happening again. And the tragic death of Daunte Wright this week serves as a heartbreaking reminder that we still have so much more work to do to get there.”
At a press conference with his prosecution team, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the state’s first African American attorney general, celebrated the verdict but said, “I would not call today’s verdict justice, however—because justice implies restoration. But it is accountability.”
President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris also weighed in on the verdict Tuesday evening. “It was a murder in the full light of day,” said Biden. For some Americans, “it ripped the blinder off about systemic racism,” he said. He encouraged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the Democratic-controlled House and awaits a vote in the Senate.
He also noted that it took an almost perfect convergence of things to arrive at a guilty verdict, from the bystanders’ videos to the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers who testified against Chauvin, including MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo, to the almost 10-minute murder itself. It shouldn’t take that much to get justice, Biden seemed to say.
Biden recounted meeting George Floyd’s daughter Gianna Floyd last year. She told him then, “Daddy changed the world!” After Tuesday’s verdict, Biden said he told the little girl: “Daddy did change the world!”
During the trial, activist and civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong spoke about the importance of a possible guilty verdict during an MSR digital roundtable discussion. “We have never had a White officer in the history of the state of Minnesota be convicted of killing a Black person,” said Levy Armstrong, “although many Black people have been killed at the hands of the police.
“This could send a signal that there’s no longer an opportunity for business as usual and that White cops will not literally continue to get away with murder. There is at least a slim chance that they will be held accountable if Derek Chauvin is convicted.”
Speaking to CBS’ Gayle King after the verdict, Levy Armstrong said that while more work needs to be done in the struggle for justice, the Chauvin verdict offers some measure of relief. “The Black community has been on edge since this trial began,” said Levy Armstrong, “and now, it feels like we can breathe.”
George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd echoed that sentiment during a press conference at the downtown Minneapolis Hilton with the Floyd family, Rev. Al Sharpton, and attorney Ben Crump. “I finally have the opportunity to get some sleep,” he said.
Philonise Floyd said that although he was relieved with the verdict, he couldn’t help but think of those who were murdered and didn’t see justice, like Emmett Till, a Black teen who was tortured and murdered at the hands of White supremacists in 1955. “People forgot about [Emmett Till],” said Philonise as he recounted a recent meeting with Till’s cousin Deborah Watts.
“[Emmett Till] was the first George Floyd,” continued Philonise Floyd. “But today you have the cameras around the world to see and show what happened to my brother.” Philonise also called for justice for Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was killed on April 11 by a Brooklyn Center police officer. “Daunte should still be here,” said Philonise.
He and the Floyd family thanked the activists “in the streets” and also at 38th St. and Chicago Ave. where Floyd died and where community members continue to gather.
“I’m not just fighting for George anymore—I’m fighting for everyone around this world,” said Philonise Floyd. He added, “Today, we are able to breathe again.”
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