Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murdering George Floyd—a historic moment for the racial justice movement in a nation where law enforcement officers are rarely found guilty of killing civilians.
An outpouring of emotion and cheers erupted outside the tightly fortified Minneapolis courthouse where a jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was handcuffed on May 25, 2020, while Chauvin, who is white, pinned him to the ground by his knee for more than nine minutes. Floyd verbalized that he couldn’t breathe more than two dozen times as he writhed face-down in agony, according to prosecutors and footage of the incident, which touched off a nationwide reckoning on race and the largest sustained mobilization against racial injustice in recent memory.
Chauvin, 45, appeared concerned behind his mask, his eyes darting side to side as the verdict was read. Second-degree murder, the most serious charge, carries up to 40 years in prison. Chauvin was remanded and led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. He’s due to be sentenced in two months.
Meanwhile, a large crowd that gathered outside the courtroom broke out in chants. “If we fight, we can win,” they repeated. While marching, Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, told reporters that Tuesday’s verdict means there will be progress for police reform. “Change is coming,” she said, adding that she had felt confident the jury would find Chauvin guilty.
When the verdict was announced, Floyd’s family and supporters were overcome with emotion and held each other with tears in their eyes, the Rev. Al Sharpton said at a news conference. “There’s sunlight,” Sharpton said before leading a prayer. “We’re going to keep going.”
Moments after saying he felt relief, one of George Floyd’s brothers, Philonise Floyd, started crying as he lamented the “never-ending cycle” of police violence impacting Black people. “Times are getting harder,” he said. “Today, we are able to breathe again.”
“I will miss him,” added Terrence Floyd, another Floyd sibling, of the monumental verdict. “But now I know he’s in history.”
After testimony began on March 29, prosecutors called to the stand 38 witnesses, including several bystanders at the scene of Floyd’s arrest, leaders within the Minneapolis police force and multiple medical experts. The first week of testimonies highlighted the emotional accounts of multiple people who wept as they recalled repeatedly begging Chauvin and three other officers on the scene to render medical aid to Floyd, to no avail.
The three other officers present when Floyd died—Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng—all face charges of aiding and abetting the second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. They will be tried separately at a later date and have all since been fired.
Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded the viral video of Floyd being crushed by Chauvin, told the jury she sometimes lies awake at night apologizing to Floyd for not physically intervening. Firefighter Genevieve Hansen, who was off-duty when she came across the scene, testified through tears that she asked Chauvin and the other officers with him multiple times to check Floyd’s pulse or let her help. “I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities,” she said. “And this human was denied that right.”
On Tuesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison praised the bystanders for not only showing courage while testifying but for exemplifying humanity when they stopped and raised their voices on the scene on May 25. “George Floyd mattered,” Ellison said. “He mattered because he was a human being.”
The attorney general said “true justice” is bigger than just one case. “I would not call today’s verdict justice,” he said. “But it is accountability, which is the first step toward justice.”
During the trial, Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, had argued that Chauvin’s use of force was necessary to restrain a man who was under the influence and who overpowered him. Nelson told jurors that Chauvin, a 19-year police veteran, did “exactly as he was trained to do.”
Chauvin did not testify, but Nelson called seven witnesses to the stand, including current and former police officers, to try to prove that Chauvin’s actions were justified. But in key and damning testimonies, a handful of Chauvin’s superiors and colleagues testified for the prosecution that Chauvin could have let up once Floyd stopped resisting, and that Chauvin’s actions were unnecessary and a violation of department policy.
Medical experts called by prosecutors testified that Floyd died of low oxygen levels from being restrained by police, and not directly from heart conditions or drug use, which the defense argued was the case.
In final statements for the prosecution on April 19, attorney Steve Schleicher said Floyd was not a threat or resisting police but still died terrified and desperate, surrounded by strangers, because of Chauvin’s pride and ego. “You cannot justify this use of force. It is impossible,” Schleicher said. “This wasn’t policing. This was murder.”
Nelson, meanwhile, urged jurors to consider the totality of events. “You cannot take a single frame and draw conclusions,” he said during his closing argument. “Put the evidence in its proper context.”
Nelson’s efforts were not enough to sway the jury, made of six white people and six people who are Black or multiracial.
Many have described the Chauvin trial as a critical moment and an inflection point in American history. During the first day of testimony, Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney representing Floyd’s family, said the “landmark” case would be a “referendum on how far America has come in its quest for equality and justice for all.”
Chauvin’s trial has now made history in a city whose police department has a long history of racist incidents and in a nation where criminal charges for police officers are rare and convictions extraordinary. From January 2005 to March 11, 2021, just 138 law-enforcement officers had been charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings, according to an analysis prepared for TIME by Philip Stinson, a professor of criminal justice who also directs the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database at Bowling Green State University. Of the 138 officers, 44 have been convicted.
And while the trial was unfolding on April 11, another Black man was killed by a police officer, in the Minnesota city of Brooklyn Center, mere miles away from Minneapolis. The fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop sparked protests in a city already on edge. Crump said Wright’s was another Black life taken unjustly by police, as he was deprived the “benefit of humanity.”
On Tuesday, Crump said Chauvin’s conviction was a turning point in American history. “Painfully earned justice has finally arrived,” he said.
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