An unnamed woman reacts upon hearing the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty on April 20, 2021, of murdering George Floyd in May 2020 by kneeling on his neck until he stopped breathing. The woman was one of dozens who gathered at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis to hear the verdict. Photo by Ricardo Lopez | Minnesota Reformer/Twitter
The jury has spoken, and found Derek Chauvin guilty in the death of George Floyd.
The former Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes while he was handcuffed and face down on the pavement at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue last May.
Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder; guilty of third-degree murder; and guilty of second-degree manslaughter. The jury deliberated for 10 hours.
After Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill read the jury’s verdict on Tuesday, Chauvin was taken into custody and will be sentenced in eight weeks.
The incident on May 25, 2020, was filmed by a teenager and set off protests across the country and reignited a national reckoning on racism in America after decades in which police killed Black men and were rarely punished.
After the verdict was read, Floyd’s relatives held a news conference with their attorney Ben Crump, who won an unprecedented $27 million settlement in the civil lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis.
George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd said he felt relieved. The footage of his brother’s death was a “motion picture” played over and over again during the trial, “the world seeing his life be extinguished,” Philonise Floyd said — and he could do nothing but watch.
Philonise Floyd said he’s going to keep fighting for change, not just for George Floyd but for “everybody around this world.”
“I get (messages) from around the world … They’re all saying the same thing: ‘We won’t be able to breathe until you’re able to breathe,’” Philonise Floyd said. “Today, we are able to breathe again.”
Minnesotans urge change after verdict
Minnesotans reacted with relief and satisfaction that justice was done.
Outside the courthouse, demonstrators cheered and chanted “One down, three to go,” in reference to the three other officers charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
“We may begin the process of healing that our community has long needed,” said Michael Jones, sitting in his wheelchair amid a crowd outside the Hennepin County Government Center moments after the verdict was announced. “This is an emotional time. I have not seen a cop held accountable like this before.”
Minnesotans also gathered at George Floyd Square, the area in south Minneapolis near where Floyd was killed. The square has become a place of collective grief and celebration since his death.
“I’m overjoyed. I feel like we can finally start doing the work that we need to do,” said the Rev. Lawrence Richardson of Linden Hills United Church of Christ. “My hope is that we can be an example for communities around the nation and around the world of what racial reconciliation can look like.”
Elected officials called on Minnesotans to keep working for police reform. During a news conference Tuesday evening, Gov. Tim Walz said the verdict was an important step in accountability but not true justice — justice will only come from systemic change, he said.
The state’s racial inequities are unsustainable and must be addressed, Walz said. He pledged that his administration would prioritize policing and criminal justice reforms, and policies to improve education, health outcomes and economic opportunities for all Minnesotans.
“I will burn my political capital on this,” Walz said. “If there are those legislators who choose not to make these changes, I will use the platform that I have to make sure Minnesotans know who’s holding up progress.”
Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted Chauvin, thanked Floyd’s family and the community for their patience, and thanked the witnesses who testified after watching Chauvin press his knee into Floyd’s neck. They performed “simple yet profound acts of courage” in telling the truth, Ellison said.
“Why did they stop? They didn’t know George Floyd,” he said. “They stopped and raised their voices, and they even challenged authority because they saw (Floyd’s) humanity.”
Ellison said a verdict can’t end the pain Floyd’s family is experiencing, but he hopes it helps them heal. He called on community members to push for criminal justice reform, saying “it’s in your hands now.”
“The work of our generation is to put unaccountable law enforcement behind us,” Ellison said. “One conviction like this one can create a powerful new opening to shed old practices and reset relationships.”
President Joe Biden addressed the nation Tuesday night, calling systemic racism a “stain on our nation’s soul” and urging lawmakers to take action. He spoke with Walz and Floyd’s relatives earlier in the day.
“We can’t leave this moment or look away, thinking our work is done,” Biden said. “We have to look, as we did for those 9 minutes and 29 seconds. We have to listen — ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’”
‘This is for you, George Floyd’
The verdict came after prosecutors laid out a case over the course of 15 days that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen, or asphyxiation, after Chauvin, a 19-year veteran on the Minneapolis police force, knelt on Floyd, 46.
In the video taken by then-17-year-old Darnella Frazier, Floyd’s face is pinned to the pavement, with Chauvin casually atop him, grinding his knee into Floyd’s neck until he went unconscious after 4 minutes and 45 seconds, had no pulse after 5 minutes and died on the street, according to a breathing expert who testified in court.
Frazier testified during the trial that she’s stayed up nights “apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting — not saving his life.”
Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson argued Floyd died from a toxic mix of fentanyl and methamphetamine and health problems ranging from heart disease to hypertension, noting the county medical examiner found no evidence of injury to Floyd’s neck or back.
After closing arguments, Nelson moved for a mistrial, saying the overwhelming media coverage of the case — including comments from elected officials — was impossible to ignore. (Jurors were not sequestered until they began deliberating Monday afternoon).
The three other officers who were on the scene — Thomas Lane, who held down Floyd’s legs; J. Alexander Kueng, who knelt on Floyd’s back and Tou Thao, who kept onlookers at bay — are scheduled to go on trial in August for aiding and abetting Chauvin.
The maximum sentence is 40 years for second-degree unintentional murder, 25 years for third-degree murder and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter. But Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a much shorter sentence — 12 ½ years — for murder for a person with no criminal history. Manslaughter has a presumptive sentence of four years for someone with no criminal history.
The case will be studied for decades given its historical importance and legal idiosyncrasies.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher said he got a call from Ellison, who asked him to help with the case. When a call like that comes, he said, “don’t overthink it,” just do it.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said that “No verdict can bring George Perry Floyd back,” but the verdict shows “He was somebody … and that’s important.” Blackwell said he hopes it brings us along the road “to a better humanity.”
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank says it was a privilege to get to know the Floyd family.
“This is for you, George Floyd,” he said, choking up and walking away from the microphone.
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