MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murder and manslaughter for pinning George Floyd to the pavement with his knee on the Black man’s neck in a case that triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious re-examination of racism and policing in the U.S.
Chauvin, 45, was immediately led away with his hands cuffed behind his back and could be sent to prison for decades.
The verdict — guilty on all counts, in a clear-cut victory for Floyd’s supporters — set off jubilation tinged with sorrow around the city. Hundreds of people poured into the streets, some running through traffic with banners. Cars blared their horns.
“Today, we are able to breathe again,” Floyd’s younger brother Philonise said at a joyous family news conference where tears streamed down his face as he likened Floyd to the 1955 Mississippi lynching victim Emmett Till, except that this time there were cameras around to show the world what happened.
Another brother, Terrence Floyd, marveled, “What a day to be a Floyd, man.”
The jury of six whites and six Black or multiracial people came back with its verdict after about 10 hours of deliberations over two days. The now-fired white officer was found guilty as charged of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
His face was obscured by a COVID-19 mask, and little reaction could be seen beyond his eyes darting around the courtroom. His bail was immediately revoked. Sentencing will be in two months; the most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson followed Chauvin out of the courtroom without comment.
President Joe Biden welcomed the verdict, saying Floyd’s death was “a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world” to see systemic racism.
But he warned: “It’s not enough. We can’t stop here. We’re going to deliver real change and reform. We can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again.”
At a park next to the courthouse, a hush fell over a crowd of about 300 as they listened to the verdict on their cellphones. Then a great roar went up, with many people hugging, some shedding tears.
At the intersection where Floyd was pinned down, a crowd chanted, “One down, three to go!” — a reference to the three other fired Minneapolis officers facing trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder in Floyd’s death.
Janay Henry, who lives nearby, said she felt grateful and relieved.
“I feel grounded. I can feel my feet on the concrete,” she said, adding that she was looking forward to the “next case with joy and optimism and strength.”
The verdict was read in a courthouse ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops, in a city on edge against another round of unrest — not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a young Black man, Daunte Wright, in a Minneapolis suburb April 11.
The jurors’ identities were kept secret and will not be released until the judge decides it is safe to do so.
It is unusual for police officers to be prosecuted for killing someone on the job. And convictions are extraordinarily rare.
Out of the thousands of deadly police shootings in the U.S. since 2005, fewer than 140 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter, according to data maintained by Phil Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University. Before Tuesday, only seven were convicted of murder.
Juries often give police officers the benefit of the doubt when they claim they had to make split-second, life-or-death decisions. But that was not an argument Chauvin could easily make.
Floyd, 46, died May 25 after being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.
The centerpiece of the case was the excruciating bystander video of Floyd gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe” and onlookers yelling at Chauvin to stop as the officer pressed his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what authorities say was more than nine minutes. Floyd slowly went silent and limp.
Prosecutors played the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, and told the jury: “Believe your eyes.” And from there it was shown over and over, analyzed one frame at a time by witnesses on both sides.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, demonstrations and scattered violence broke out in Minneapolis, around the country and beyond. The furor also led to the removal of Confederate statues and other offensive symbols such as Aunt Jemima.
In the months that followed, numerous states and cities restricted the use of force by police, revamped disciplinary systems or subjected police departments to closer oversight.
The “Blue Wall of Silence” that often protects police accused of wrongdoing crumbled after Floyd’s death: The Minneapolis police chief quickly called it “murder” and fired all four officers, and the city reached a $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family as jury selection was underway.
Police-procedure experts and law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department, including the chief, testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training.
Medical experts for the prosecution said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him, a knee on his neck and his face jammed against the ground.
Chauvin’s attorney called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use.
Floyd had high blood pressure, an enlarged heart and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
Under the law, police have certain leeway to use force and are judged according to whether their actions were “reasonable” under the circumstances.
The defense also tried to make the case that Chauvin and the other officers were hindered in their duties by what they perceived as a growing, hostile crowd.
Chauvin did not testify, and all that the jury or the public ever heard by way of an explanation from him came from a police body-camera video after an ambulance had taken the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Floyd away. Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy ... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The prosecution’s case also included tearful testimony from onlookers who said the police kept them back when they protested what was happening.
Eighteen-year-old Darnella Frazier, who shot the crucial video, said Chauvin just gave the bystanders a “cold” and “heartless” stare. She and others said they felt a sense of helplessness and lingering guilt from witnessing Floyd’s death.
“It’s been nights I stayed up, apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she said.
Renee Hill first heard the word, repeated three times, over her car speakers.
Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
She sped toward the community that has held her up in the 11 months since Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, killed George Floyd.
Her parents had yet to process the Minneapolis jury’s verdict on Tuesday in the back seat before Hill parked next to the median surrounding the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue and wept.
As motorists honked their horns, she described how she felt being back at the space where she and thousands of other Richmonders participated in protests last summer in pursuit of racial justice.
“I just need to hug people,” she said, running across the cobbled streets in her pink Virginia State University T-shirt to share her relief with Bee the Gardener, who stood facing the 8-foot fence that separated him from the informally renamed Marcus-David Peters Circle.
He had planted a garden there, in the space renamed for a Black man killed nearly three years ago during an interaction with Richmond police while he was in a mental health crisis.
Floyd’s killing last May spurred months of protests in Richmond centered on the site, resulting in the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments and new efforts to reform policing in the city and throughout Virginia. Tuesday’s decision elicited deep feelings in many who took to Richmond’s streets last year to demand change.
It also brought them back to the space that had housed teach-ins, graduation ceremonies and pick-up basketball games; a site that repeatedly was overrun by police in riot gear who launched tear gas and shot rubber bullets.
“They got him,” a driver yelled, honking intermittently alongside dozens of other vehicles.
“GUILTY,” screamed another.
Bee’s nods quickened and his face scrunched as Hill pulled him in and he finally let himself cry.
“If they acquitted someone who did something so egregious, it [would be] hopeless,” Hill said. “This gives me some hope that we can get up this mountain.”
“It’s a celebration right now,” said Lawrence West, founder of BLM RVA.
Even in the moments before the verdict was announced, Hill questioned whether Chauvin would elude justice. She was relieved when she saw that the jury found him guilty in Floyd’s murder.
Princess Blanding, a gubernatorial candidate and advocate for police accountability, said the guilty verdicts left her feeling empowered by the effects of last year’s racial justice demonstrations.
“It was the people power that resulted in the verdict that was read today,” said Blanding, for whose brother the circle was informally renamed.
Even so, Blanding said it should not have taken a mass protest movement to magnify Floyd’s case. And she said many are still fighting to ensure that being Black does not result in unjust incarceration, brutalization or death at the hands of police.
“We’re fighting for humanity,” she said. “We need to normalize holding police accountable.”
“Does a guilty verdict really mean that George Floyd’s family gets justice — just knowing that we have so far to go?” she said.
Within three weeks of Floyd’s death last May, Richmond Police Chief William C. Smith resigned at the request of Mayor Levar Stoney, as both came under scrutiny for the city’s response to local protests.
The weekend after Chauvin murdered Floyd on Monday, May 25, people in Richmond started holding protests day and night for weeks on end in the middle of a pandemic. Most nights were peaceful; some erupted into chaos. People set fire to police vehicles, dumpsters and a GRTC bus.
On June 1, Richmond police, unprovoked and without warning, fired tear gas at a large crowd of people at the statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, more than 20 minutes before a mandatory curfew. About two weeks later, as the nightly protests persisted, a police officer drove his SUV through a crowd of protesters.
Skirmishes between protesters and police escalated as authorities transformed the city’s police headquarters on West Grace Street into a makeshift fortress with concrete culverts and barriers. Riot police met the protesters there with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and flash bangs.
The agency rotated through leadership.
Stoney named William “Jody” Blackwell the city’s interim police chief after William Smith’s departure. Blackwell stepped down 11 days later. Stoney again named a new chief: Gerald Smith, deputy police chief in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, N.C.
Throughout June, protesters succeeded in toppling several statues, including the monument to Jefferson Davis, which a city commission in 2018 determined should be removed. The commission advised the city to “reinterpret” the other monuments in a contemporary light, but Stoney ordered their removal amid the crisis this summer, saying that they posed a risk to public safety and should no longer be honored.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also ordered the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, but it still remains pending an appeal before the Virginia Supreme Court.
At the end of July, the Richmond City Council approved legislation to create a new police oversight board and adopt a new emergency response model known as the “Marcus Alert.”
State lawmakers last year also passed legislation backing the new system, ordering state behavioral health and criminal justice agencies to establish guidelines for police in responding to and interacting with people in psychiatric crisis or who have a developmental disability, such as autism.
In a statement, Northam called the verdict Tuesday “an important step.”
“It is a step towards accountability for police. It is a step towards justice — for George Floyd, for his family, for his community, and for our entire country,” the governor said. “I pray that today brings some small comfort to the family of George Floyd and all who loved him. May we honor his legacy by continuing on this march towards justice and meaningful change. We have a lot of work ahead.”
Some local activists, including Blanding, who criticized the state Marcus Alert bill as “watered down,” have said more changes are needed.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, a local organizer and host of the radio show and podcast “Race Capitol,” said the verdicts show that police accountability is possible. “But are we only striving for accountability or are we trying to save lives?” she asked.
To that end, she said she will continue pushing to shrink the size and scope of policing in Virginia.
“My thoughts are for the mothers here who are still fighting for justice and the families that are fighting for justice,” she said.
Stoney last summer convened a task force including activists and local officials to “reimagine” local policing. In a speech this year, the mayor said the police department has implemented some of its recommendations, changing how police officers are trained and leading to the creation of a new police accountability office.
In a statement, Stoney said the verdict in the Chauvin trial “makes it clear to everyone in America that Black lives matter.”
“We all bear a responsibility to change and hold accountable the unjust systems that have harmed Black Americans,” he said. “I stand with all Richmonders in our commitment to do the hard work ahead and realize a better day in our city, commonwealth and country.”
In addition to the removal of the monuments, Richmond and other localities around Virginia changed the names of roads and streets such as Confederate Avenue and Jefferson Davis Highway. In Hanover County, outside of the city, school officials changed the names of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School after years of debate over the names.
“The whole nation was focused on the injustice. ... It showed the inequities in our communities,” Virginia NAACP President Robert Barnette said of Floyd’s murder and the social changes it wrought. “Very seldom are police officers convicted and held accountable for bad behavior. This [case] will go down in history as indicating that our justice system works.”
As the evening faded Tuesday, Bee the Gardener, who continues to keep vigil at Marcus-David Peters Circle, heard a radio emit the verdict again. It wasn’t lost on Bee how many families in Richmond haven’t heard the same words after losing someone to police violence.
In between dancing to the “Ghostbusters” theme song, Bee mused on whether the guilty verdict for Chauvin would push more people to fight to make their communities better — to show up.
Either way, he said, the work continues.
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Democratic political leaders in Virginia on Tuesday said the guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd heralds a new standard for police officers in their treatment of Black people but leaves an incomplete effort to extricate racism from the justice system.
Floyd’s death under Chauvin’s knee in Minnesota last May inflamed months of protests in Richmond over police brutality and systemic racism in the criminal justice system — prompting a still-ongoing reckoning among policymakers that has yielded some state reforms.
“The work continues, but it’s also OK to enjoy a well-needed exhale, even if only for a moment,” said Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, reacting to the guilty verdict on Twitter.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in a collective statement described the road to the guilty verdict as an “incredibly painful and emotional time” that in the end yielded some relief.
“We cannot stop here,” the 23-member caucus said. “While this verdict serves as a step forward in combating systemic racism, the work continues to ensure that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice both for our children and for the generations after them.”
Gov. Ralph Northam said Floyd “should still be alive today, and no courtroom decision can bring him back. But this decision is an important step. It is a step towards accountability for police. It is a step towards justice.”
Republicans in Virginia, who have broadly criticized what they see as anti-police sentiment among Democrats, were comparatively silent after the verdict was read in the late afternoon.
American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic group that says it seeks to hold Republicans accountable, posted video of Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, a candidate for governor, condemning the verdict.
“Friends, today’s verdict makes me sick,” said Chase, speaking to an audience in King William County. “I am so concerned about our law enforcement right now quitting — and you should be, too.”
Long before the guilty verdict against Chauvin, videos and accounts of Floyd’s death moved activists and lawmakers to seek changes to Virginia’s standards and laws related to police conduct.
The measures were widely celebrated by civil rights advocates, but many others argued lawmakers had not gone far enough to reform the role of police in the state or responded to calls from protesters to shift law enforcement funding to social services.
During a 2020 special session of the General Assembly focused on COVID-19 and police reform, lawmakers banned the use of chokeholds by police unless it is “immediately necessary to protect the law-enforcement officer or another person.”
They also banned the use of no-knock search warrants like the one police used the night Breonna Taylor was killed in Louisville, Ky. They also made it easier for the state to ban police officers who commit wrongdoing from serving on the force again.
The legislature expanded the powers of civilian review boards, giving the citizen-led boards power to subpoena testimony and documents, and to issue binding disciplinary actions against law enforcement officers and staff.
Efforts to make civilian review boards mandatory in localities across the state failed.
Also unsuccessful was an effort that would have allowed citizens to sue police officers for monetary damages if they violate people’s civil rights on the job. A policy known as “qualified immunity” currently prevents them from doing so.
Many key Democrats, including those running for governor this fall, have expressed support for doing away with qualified immunity. The verdict comes weeks before Republicans pick their statewide nominees at a May 8 convention and Democrats in a June 8 primary.
One demand from protesters that lawmakers declined was to shift public resources away from law enforcement and toward social services. Since the protests last summer, lawmakers have increased police salaries and increased funding for law enforcement training.
In the months after Floyd’s death, the city of Richmond and the state also dismantled much of their public Confederate iconography, from statues to school names.
Here is a sampling of Virginia Democrats’ statements in reaction to the verdict.
Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th: “This verdict, while frankly a relief that the system worked this time and a moment of acknowledgement that George Floyd’s life was egregiously and heinously snuffed out, is not a solution. We must commit to changing our policing to ensure these kinds of incidents do not happen again, are not continual headlines and that families are not left shocked and grieving when a loved one doesn’t come home.”
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd: “Derek Chauvin was afforded the due process that George Floyd was denied and found guilty by a jury of his peers. This verdict is a start, but it does not absolve Congress and the federal government of our responsibility to reform policing across the country, and it is a reminder of the need for the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, a candidate for attorney general: “This verdict won’t fix the systemic injustices in policing or the sense of impunity too many officers feel when interacting with Black Americans. To keep all of our communities safe and build a justice system that works for everyone, we must have true accountability for police misconduct.”
Attorney General Mark Herring: “This guilty verdict will hopefully be an inflection point that forces us all to recommit to building a society in which Black lives matter and all Americans can live without fearing the police or discrimination.”
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a candidate for governor: “Watching George Floyd’s murder, I felt the same trauma my parents felt when they heard about Emmett Till. While today’s guilty verdict is a step towards justice, George Floyd should be alive today. His death must remain a clarion call for continuing police and justice reform.”
Former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, a candidate for governor: “Today’s verdict will never bring George Floyd back into the arms of his family and loved ones. We cannot forget that we will never get true, full justice, until we take action to change the system that took Mr. Floyd’s life, and impacted countless other Black Americans, like Lt. Caron Nazario and Donovan Lynch here in Virginia. Too many of us have been hurt and harmed when the cameras have been off or pointed away.”
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a candidate for governor: "Today, a jury’s verdict delivered a powerful statement of accountability to Derek Chauvin, a long overdue measure of justice to George Floyd and his family and a message of hope to our nation and world. George Floyd should be alive. We all watched as he was brutally murdered with a knee on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds — a cruel reminder of the pervasive racial injustice and police brutality that threaten Black and Brown communities every day."
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a candidate for governor: “George Floyd’s murder shocked our nation, leaving us heartbroken for his family and outraged at the suffering that Black Americans have faced at the hands of a broken criminal justice system for too long. Today’s verdict delivers accountability, but this racist, broken system remains intact. The time to act is now. We need reform before even one more Black or Brown life is taken.”
Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond: “I went into this trial, as did many other Black Americans, expecting the worst. To see a conviction be made was both a shock and a relief. Some small piece of justice has been served here on this day. This movement is about more than one case and more than one police officer.”
House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax: “Today, George Floyd’s family received justice. Systemic racism and the toll it takes on our communities of color is still real and there is much work ahead to ensure every American is equal under the law. This verdict continues the long path of healing and progress.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.: “George Floyd’s life mattered. Justice has been served.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.:”Today justice is delivered for George Floyd and his family. But one correct verdict does not negate the profound injustice that lingers every day.”