Story at a glance
- On Tuesday afternoon, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of a Black man, George Floyd.
- The death of Floyd and other Black men last year sparked a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and unearthed systemic issues in our policing and criminal justice systems.
- Chauvin’s guilty verdict is being seen by many as a turning point, and activists are now looking toward Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
Americans waited on the edge of their seats yesterday afternoon while the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin finally came to an end. By the time the workday was out, so was the news: Chauvin had been found guilty of murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis during an arrest last May.
Chauvin’s guilty verdict was met with celebration by many who believed it could signal a turning point for the way the American justice system deals with cases involving police officers and people of color. The elation over the trial’s outcome was short lived, though, as activists have been quick to remember and remind that inequalities still pervade the U.S. criminal justice system.
After George Floyd was murdered outside of a convenience store in Minneapolis last May, shockwaves were sent across the nation — sparking months of protests in opposition to racially motivated police brutality. Now, the officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck as he yelled out “I can’t breathe” has been found guilty by a diverse, 12-member jury of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The second-degree unintentional murder charge carries a maximum 40-year sentence, and the third-degree murder charge carries a maximum 25-year sentence. The final charge, second-degree manslaughter, carries either a maximum 10-year-sentence or a fine of up to $20,000.
Next on the docket is a trial for the three former officers who stood by as George Floyd was killed. They are all expected to appear in court beginning in August.
“Today, you have the cameras all around the world to see and show what happened to my brother. It was a motion picture,” Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, said at a news conference with the family and civil rights leaders. “The world seen his life being extinguished. And I could do nothing but watch, especially in that courtroom, over and over and over again as my brother was murdered.”
A poignant moment
Across the nation, the verdict was received with cheering in the streets and motorists honking their horns in cities such as New York City and Washington, D.C. In Brooklyn, a crowd gathered outside the Barclays Center to celebrate, and in George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, throngs of people screamed and cheered.
The square has become a symbolic area for the community to come together and protest since it was named after George Floyd last year. Yesterday, a brass band played in a nearby church parking lot as a large crowd walked around flowerbeds and images of George Floyd and others who were killed by police.
"As a country we don't have a history of holding police accountable. And when you are a Black man, that's difficult to deal with and swallow every day," said a crying Chris Dixon. "Not just Black people, but folks of all different races and cultures just said: this was unacceptable."
What comes next?
For many the joy of the moment held somber undertones, as protesters yesterday called for a continued focus on the prosecution of another Minnesota police officer, Kimberly Potter, who was recently charged with manslaughter after shooting a young Black motorist, Daunte Wright, during a traffic stop.
The moment was also addressed by Vice President Harris, whose sigh of relief was followed by this statement: “Still, it can’t take away the pain. A measure of justice is not the same as equal justice."
"This verdict brings us a step closer. And the fact is, we still have work to do. We still must reform the system.”
Following Harris’s remarks, President Biden addressed the nation from the White House, where he presented the moment as a potential “giant step forward in the march toward justice in America.”
“Let’s also be clear that such a verdict is also much too rare,” Biden said. “For so many people, it seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors … for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability.”
Both Biden and Harris called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, with Biden conceding that while no verdict will resurrect Floyd, “through the family’s pain, we are finding purpose so George’s legacy will not be just about his death but about what we must do in his memory.”
Former President Obama echoed President Biden’s sentiments, crediting the jury for doing the “right thing,” but adding that “we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial.”
“While today’s verdict may have been a necessary step on the road to progress, it was far from a sufficient one. We cannot rest. We will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system,” said Obama.
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