A new page in US history
A jury last week found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all three charges stemming from the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, last year.
Chauvin was not expressive as Judge Peter Cahill announced his conviction on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The verdicts were read a day after jurors began their deliberations.
Video of Chauvin holding his knee on or near Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last May, while Floyd was prone and handcuffed, spurred months of protests and reanimated the movement opposing police brutality against Black men. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
Third-degree murder has a maximum penalty of 25 years. Second-degree manslaughter has a maximum of 10 years.
Sentencing guidelines call for sentences short of the maximum. Judge Cahill said that sentencing would take place in eight weeks.
After the verdicts were read, Chauvin was handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom.
Ben Crump, attorney for Floyd’s family, said in a statement, “this case is a turning point in American history for accountability of law enforcement and sends a clear message which, it is hoped, is heard clearly in every city and every state”.
President Joe Biden, in a phone call with Floyd’s family that Crump recorded and posted online, pledged to accomplish meaningful police reform and told them that “nothing is going to make it all better, but at least now there’s some justice.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, who was also on the phone call, said: “We are going to make something good come out of this tragedy.” Chauvin’s high-profile trial began in March and concluded on Monday in a Minneapolis courthouse fortified with barbed wire.
The case has been at the forefront of the anti-racist movement that gained steam during former President Donald Trump’s term in office and ignited around the country in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The video of Floyd’s death became a vivid illustration to many of the way Black men are often treated at the hands of law enforcement.
Whether Chauvin was found guilty or acquitted was widely seen as a test of America’s system of justice.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who oversaw the prosecution, said at a press conference that “George Floyd mattered. He was loved by his family and his friends.
He mattered because he was a human being, and there is no way you can turn away from that reality,”.
He said that the verdict is not justice in itself, but that it is “accountability, which is the first step toward justice.”
Top Democrats in Congress cheered the decision. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, said in a statement that the “guilty verdict serves as an official proclamation of what so many of us have known for nearly a year: George Floyd was murdered by an officer who was sworn to protect and serve.
However, we should not mistake a guilty verdict in this case as evidence that the persistent problem of police misconduct has been solved or that the divide between law enforcement and so many of the communities they serve has been bridged,” Schumer said.
“We must remain diligent in our efforts to bring meaningful change to police departments across the country.”
Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama said in a joint statement, “Today, a jury did the right thing. But true justice requires much more.
True justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently, every day,” the Obamas said.
“It requires us to recognize that millions of our friends, family, and fellow citizens live in fear that their next encounter with law enforcement could be their last.”
After the verdict was read, celebrations erupted at the courthouse and at the Cup Foods where Floyd was killed.
A trial for three of the other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao, is set to begin in August.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, earlier indicated that his client would appeal a guilty verdict on the basis that jurors may have been impermissibly swayed by outside forces.
Nelson cited comments by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who urged protesters to become confrontational if the jury acquitted Chauvin.
The tense atmosphere surrounding the trial was amplified in recent weeks by a spate of police killings that have led to more protests.
On April 11, 2021, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was killed by a police officer in nearby Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. The officer, Kimberly Potter, later claimed that she thought she was using a Taser.
Potter has resigned and been charged with second-degree manslaughter. Adam Toledo, a Latino 13-year-old, was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer on March 29,2021.
Footage of the seventh grader’s killing, which fueled anguish in Chicago and around the country, was released amid Chauvin’s trial.
According to National Fraternal Order of Police “ the trial was fair and due process was served. We hope and expect that all of our fellow citizens will respect the rule of law and remain peaceful tonight and in the days to come.”
Minnesota Governor, Tim Walz said “Today’s verdict is an important step forward for justice in Minnesota. The trial is over, but our work has only begun.
The world watched on May 25, 2020, as George Floyd died with a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.”
Thousands of Minnesotans marched in the streets last summer in the wake of his death — inspiring a movement around the globe.
While many of these people never met George, they valued his humanity. They knew what happened was wrong. They called for change, and they demanded justice.
Hillary Clinton, Former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential Candidate said “George Floyd’s family and community deserved for his killer to be held accountable. Today, they got that accountability.
Always and forever, Black lives matter.” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “I was appalled by the death of George Floyd and welcome this verdict.
My thoughts tonight are with George Floyd’s family and friends.” According to American Civil Liberties Union “For the first time in Minnesota state history, a white police officer has been held accountable for killing a Black man.
While today’s verdict is a small win for police accountability and may help heal a grieving community, the systems that allowed George to be murdered — ripping him away from his family and the communities that loved him so much — remain fully intact.”
National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People said “Justice has prevailed in the case against George Floyds killer Derek Chauvin, but the work is not done! We must keep fighting to end qualified immunity, and we must get #PoliceReformNOW.”
In a country with 83% white majority and 14% black population, which remains marginalized with poverty running high, emotions were running high.
The conviction of Derek Chauvin re-affirmed that justice is not dead in spite country being deeply divided. Justice may be blind but it can see in the dark.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.