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Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer whose fateful encounter on May 25, 2020 with George Floyd resulted in his death, was convicted on all counts of murder and manslaughter Tuesday (April 20) after a two-week trial and a year of intense demonstrations that placed focus on race, policing and a nation pushed to the edge.
The jury in Hennepin County Government Center took roughly 10 hours to return a verdict after prosecutors and defense attorneys finished their closing statements on Monday. Chauvin, 45, was silent in court when the verdict was read by Judge Peter Cahill. He was immediately handcuffed, led out of the courtroom by a bailiff and remanded to the custody of the State of Minnesota. Bail was revoked.
When the verdict was read, Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, who on Tuesday was the single family member allowed to be inside the courtroom due to coronavirus restrictions, according to a pool reporter, hugged special prosecutor Jerry Blackwell and others on the prosecution team.
He was asked what he was praying for, to which he answered: “I was just praying they would find him guilty. As an African American, we usually never get justice.”
Floyd’s family expressed relief and gratitude toward the attorneys, activists and advocates that stood with them from the beginning, saying that they held faith in the verdict they were seeking.
“I feel relieved today that I finally had the opportunity for hopefully getting some sleep. A lot of days I prayed and I was speaking things into existence,” said Philonise Floyd at a press conference on Tuesday evening. “I had faith that [Chauvin] would be convicted.”
Chauvin faces as many as 40 years in prison when sentencing is pronounced. He opted Monday to have Cahill sentence him in the case of conviction on aggravated charges rather than allowing a jury to decide. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for eight weeks from Tuesday. It is unclear if Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson will appeal.
“I would not call today’s verdict justice because justice implies true restoration but it is accountability, which is the first step toward justice,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison whose office prosecuted the case.
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Floyd’s death was one of several at the hands of police that triggered worldwide demonstrations that typically saw thousands in the streets, angered at what many regarded as the wholesale killing of Blacks by an out-of-control police culture, or by racist vigilantism.
Other similar incidents, also happening in 2020 revolved around Floyd’s killing. They include: Ahmaud Arbery, who died in February when two white men in Georgia, who believed he was a burglar, chased and then killed him; Breonna Taylor, a Louisville EMT worker who was shot in a botched police drug raid in March; Rayshard Brooks, an Atlanta man killed by police in a fast food drive through in June; Daniel Prude a Chicago man who was visiting relatives in Rochester N.Y., killed by officers during a mental episode, also in March.
These deaths were just a few of many that have made international headlines going back decades, but either resulted in a grand jury deciding not to indict, or an acquittal. The trend has become a narrative that has long frustrated much of the African American community, which believes justice in such cases remains out of reach.
“We are pleased that the individual who senselessly killed George Floyd in cold blood and for the world to see has been held accountable for his reprehensible actions,” said Jacari Harris, executive director of the George Floyd Memorial Foundation in a statement shortly after the verdict was read. “While nothing can bring George back, we are thankful that a jury of Derek Chauvin’s peers recognized that what he did was criminal.”
The trial, among the most closely watched in American history, centered on Chauvin, a supervising officer on the Minneapolis police force participating in the apprehension of George Floyd, a 46-year-old security guard who had moved to the city from Houston for a new start. On May 25, 2020, Floyd stopped by a corner store, Cup Foods, in South Minneapolis, but a store cashier noticed that a $20 bill he paid with was counterfeit. After going to Floyd’s car to ask him about it, the cashier returned to the store as the manager called the police.
Four officers, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung, Thomas Lane and Chauvin responded. Floyd was removed from his car at gunpoint and handcuffed. When Thao, Keung, Lane and Chauvin attempted to place Floyd in a squad car, he became nervous and fearful, saying that he was claustrophobic.
The officers forced him into the vehicle, but pulled him out of the other side in an attempt to subdue him. Still in handcuffs, he was placed face down on the ground all while saying that he could not breathe. Chauvin knelt on his neck in an attempt to restrain him. Prosecutors said that Chauvin remained on top of Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Onlookers, most of whom recorded the incident and later testified at the trial, protested that Chauvin was going too far and that Floyd was in serious danger. Thao told them to stand back, while Lane and Keung tried to hold Floyd down.
Floyd, still struggling, lost consciousness. When EMS workers arrived, Chauvin finally removed himself and Floyd was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
All of the officers were fired and later arrested. Chauvin was charged with second and third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. Lane, Thao and Keung were charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder. Their trial is separate and scheduled to begin in August.
Prosecutors and defense in Chauvin’s trial called 44 witnesses, presenting evidence from police body cameras, autopsy evidence, and toxicology reports. The prosecution tried to prove that Chauvin’s method was heavy handed and went egregiously beyond Minneapolis police policy and use of force rules. At the same time, the defense attempted to show Chauvin did what any reasonable officer would do in the event of encountering a suspect that is resisting arrest, and also contended that Floyd’s heart condition and drug use were contributing factors in his death and Chauvin’s action was not the primary cause.
The proceedings came down to the end of closing arguments on Monday and ended in more controversy when Nelson moved for a mistrial because of remarks made by California Rep. Maxine Waters. She made the comments about getting “more confrontational” in the event of an acquittal to demonstrators in Brooklyn Center, Minn., protesting the April 11 police shooting of Daunte Wright. Nelson said such rhetoric could bias the jury, which was not sequestered at the time. Cahill denied the motion, but said that the remark could be used to overturn a guilty verdict on appeal.
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Former president and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama released a statement praising the Minneapolis jury for doing “the right thing.”
“True justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently every day,” said the Obamas. “It requires us to recognize that millions of our friends, family, and fellow citizens live in fear their next encounter with law enforcement could be their last. And it requires us to do the sometimes thankless, often difficult, but always necessary work of making the America we know more like the America we believe in.”
Editor’s Note: This story will be updated.
Photos from left: George Floyd via Facebook, Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office via Getty Images