Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd last May, was found guilty of two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
The verdict, which a jury of Chauvin’s peers took 10 hours to reach, came nearly 11 months after the nation and the world watched unbearably clear video of the officer murdering Floyd in front of a crowd of up to a dozen stunned, outraged witnesses, including 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who recorded the crime and posted the distressing images on Facebook that night.
In that sense, the formal jury of Chauvin’s peers assembled in court just reached the same verdict as the informal gathering of concerned bystanders who watched him murder George Floyd in front of them on Memorial Day last year.
Frazier and the other bystanders offered wrenching testimony at the start of the trial that the obvious injustice of what they witnessed was clear to them at the time, as they watched Chauvin press his knee into Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, until he died.
Attempts by Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, to argue that the bystanders were an angry mob that posed a threat to the police, were rejected by the witnesses. Asked by Nelson if she and the other witnesses were “upset or angry,” one witness, off-duty Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen, responded tersely: “I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody be killed, but it’s upsetting.” Hansen was rebuked by the judge for arguing with the lawyer, but her controlled fury resonated with many viewers of the televised trial.
The brazen nature of the murder and the video posted online sparked months of street protests against the police killings of Black people in more than 2,700 American cities and towns and in other nations.
“I would not call today’s verdict justice,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said after the verdict, “because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice.”
Ellison, whose office led the prosecution, said the bystanders “who stopped and raised their voices” during the crime “were a bouquet of humanity: old, young; men and women; Black and white; a man from the neighborhood just walking to get a drink; a child going to buy a snack with her cousin; an off-duty firefighter on her way to a community garden; brave young women — teenagers — who pressed record on their cellphones. … They stopped and they raised their voices because they knew that what they were seeing was wrong.”
He also invoked the names of a litany of Black victims of police violence and said, “This had to end. We need true justice. That’s not one case. That is a social transformation that says that nobody’s beneath the law and no one is above it.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison invokes the memories of Rodney King, Abner Louima, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo and others.
“This has to end,” he says. pic.twitter.com/5WGQmTpIYB
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) April 20, 2021
Protesters at the site of the murder chanted George Floyd’s name after the verdict was announced.
After the conviction, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called Floyd’s family.
“Nothing is gonna make it all better,” the president told the Floyd family, “but at least, God, now there’s some justice.”
News of the verdict was greeted with relief and emotion across the country, after so many previous high-profile cases had ended with the acquittal of white police officers who killed Black citizens.
Ms. L, a COTA bus driver in Columbus, Ohio, reacts after hearing the guilty charges for Derek Chauvin. Ms. L was listening to the verdict on her phone and pulled the bus over on North High Street when she heard.
— The Lantern (@TheLantern) April 20, 2021
Chauvin was fired days after the killing, along with the other three officers involved. He was convicted on Tuesday of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin will be sentenced in the weeks ahead and could face up to 40 years in prison but is likely to receive far less time because of his lack of a previous criminal record. Both murder charges carry a presumptive prison sentence of 12.5 years, but prosecutors have asked for more time.
The other fired officers — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane — who were also arrested and charged within days of the crime, all face trial in August for having aided and abetted the second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of Floyd.
In advance of the verdict, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton, wrote on Twitter that, no matter what the jury found, “nothing has changed the underlying conditions allowing for the murder of Floyd in the first place.” The recent police killings of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and Adam Toledo in Chicago, Taylor added, “assure that without the annihilation of the criminal punishment system, we will be here again.”