MINNEAPOLIS: Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a white, was convicted on Tuesday of murdering George Floyd, a milestone in the fraught racial history of the United States and a rebuke of law enforcement’s treatment of black Americans.
A 12-member jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty of all three charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter after considering three weeks of testimony from 45 witnesses, including bystanders, police officials and medical experts. Deliberations began on Monday and lasted just over 10 hours.
In a confrontation captured on video, Derek Chauvin pushed his knee into the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in handcuffs, for more than nine minutes on May 25 last year. Chauvin and three fellow officers were attempting to arrest Floyd, accused of using a fake $20 note to buy cigarettes at a grocery store.
The jurors remained still and quiet as the verdict was read. Chauvin, wearing a grey suit with a blue tie as well as a light-blue face mask, nodded and stood quickly when the judge ruled that his bail was revoked. He was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs and placed in the custody of a county sheriff.
The conviction triggered a wave of relief and reflection not only across the United States but also in countries around the world.
“It was a murder in the full light of day and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism,” President Joe Biden said in televised remarks. “This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America.”
Outside the courthouse, a crowd of several hundred people erupted in cheers when the verdict was announced _ a scene that unfolded in cities across the United States. Car horns honked, demonstrators blocked traffic and chanted: “George Floyd” and “All three counts”.
At George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, the intersection where Floyd was killed and which was later named in his honour, people screamed, applauded and some threw dollar notes in the air in celebration. While celebrating the verdict, protesters called for justice in the case of Daunte Wright, a black man who was fatally shot by a police officer after a routine traffic stop on April 11, just a few kilometres from where Chauvin stood trial.
Kimberly Potter, who has turned in her badge, has been charged with manslaughter in that case.
George Floyd’s brother Philonise, speaking at a news conference with several family members, said: “We are able to breathe again” after the verdict, but he added the fight for justice was not over.
“We have to protest because it seems like this is a never-ending cycle,” he said. As the country focused on the guilty verdict in Minneapolis, police in Columbus, Ohio, fatally shot a black teenage girl they confronted as she lunged at two people with a knife, as seen in police video footage of the encounter. The incident sparked street protests in Ohio’s largest city.
’First step toward justice’
Derek Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison. While the US criminal justice system and juries have long given leeway and some legal protection to police officers who use violence to subdue civilians, the Minneapolis jurors found that Chauvin had crossed the line and used excessive force.
Chauvin’s defense team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the verdict, but is considered likely to appeal the conviction.
In a trial that opened on March 29, the defence argued that Chauvin behaved as any “reasonable police officer” would have under those circumstances, and sought to raise doubts about the cause of Floyd’s death.
Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2021