After the three week trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on the neck of George Floyd last summer, the jury rendered a guilty verdict for all three charges. The result was met with cheering, applause, tears and hugging in George Floyd Square outside the courthouse.
The jury consisted of a diverse group of individuals who did not ask for clarification on any evidence that was presented during the trial. This verdict comes amid unrest over the recent death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright at the hands of another Minneapolis police officer during a routine traffic stop and the recent death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo at the hands of a Chicago police officer.
Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He will face a maximum of 40, 25 and 10 year sentences for each of the counts, setting a ceiling of 75 years in prison.
Prosecutors called a number of witnesses and experts during the trial – including the Minneapolis police chief; medical professionals; and those present for the death of Floyd, one of whom was a local firefighter.
First to the stand were the witnesses who were present outside of Cup Foods, where Floyd took his final breaths. They laid a foundation of emotion to accompany the footage, some even being brought to tears. One witness was a local firefighter medic who, during the incident, attempted to reason with officers to let her give life-saving medical attention to Floyd. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified that Chauvin used force that was not permitted within the department’s guidelines, a rare instance of officers not supporting one of their own. The medical examiner, emergency room doctor and pulmonologist who were called testified that Floyd’s cause of death was an oxygen deficiency, commonly referred to as asphyxia. Their testimonies lent an expert view of what the witnesses saw, explaining the anatomical details of Chauvin’s use of force.
The defense countered with a set of witnesses who testified that Floyd was resisting arrest; the cause of death was from his drug use and preexisting conditions; and that Chauvin’s use of force was justified.
Chauvin waived his right for the jury to decide his sentence, so in the next eight weeks the sentence will be determined by Judge Peter Cahill. The former officer was out on bail during the trial, but was remanded into police custody and will remain in jail until sentencing.
Eva Wicks, a 21-year-old Black woman who goes to school at the University of Memphis, experienced “a wave of relief” when the verdict was delivered. However, she is unsure if this will usher in the change that activists have been pushing for since last summer.
“I’m honestly surprised that he was convicted,” she said. “I want to see if he will serve the maximum sentence or not, too. I hope things change, but I don’t think this would have happened if it weren’t so high profile. I feel a wave of relief and shock that they finally got an officer.”
Brendan Hill marched in the Black Lives Matter protests last summer that followed Floyd’s death. While he believes there is a long way to go for equality in policing, he said this is a monumental moment in history.
“[I felt] happiness,” he said when he heard the verdict. “It’s reassuring to see the justice system prevail after years of it failing people of color. There is definitely a lot more work that needs to be done. George Floyd is not the only case of police harming our community, but this is
a step in the right direction. This is deeply rooted in our country, but change seems to be coming.”
After the verdict was announced, Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison delivered a statement to press outside of the courthouse. Along with offering his thanks to the prosecution, he said this would be the first step of an ongoing fight for equal policing, as well as an end to racism.
“It is the duty of our generation to put unaccountable law enforcement behind us,” he said. “It is time to transform the relationship between community and the people who are sworn to protect them from one that is mistrustful, suspicious and – in some cases terrifying — into one that is empathetic, passionate and affirming.”
The family of Floyd received a call from President Biden immediately following the conviction. In the call, he said, “Nothing will make the pain go better, but at least, God, now there’s some justice.”