A jury has convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd, whose death last year set off worldwide protests against racial injustice.
Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges — second-degree and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Wearing a light grey suit, a blue tie and a mask, he furrowed his brow only slightly when the verdict was read. He has led away in handcuffs and will be sentenced in eight weeks.
The trial in Minneapolis has been one of the most closely watched US court cases in years and comes at a time of calls for greater accountability when police kill people of colour in the line of duty. Jury selection began March 9, and opening statements began March 29. Jurors deliberated roughly 10 hours before announcing they had reached a verdict.
Last May, Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes while arresting him for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.
“What is important to think about for justice, is what justice looks like for George Floyd’s family,” said Ashley Howard, a University of Iowa professor who studies the history of African Americans in the Midwest. “Any conviction will never bring back their father, their partner, their friend. But if a conviction brings some closure for the family, then they can call that justice.”
A crowd grew outside the Hennepin County government centre in downtown Minneapolis ahead of the verdict. One person led a familiar chat, shouting, “Say his name,” to which the crowd responded, “George Floyd”.
The city has expected protests after the verdict, regardless of the jury’s decision. The government centre has been barricaded with a fence topped with concertina wire since March. The National Guard increased troops in the metro area last week following civil unrest in a northern suburb after police shot a 20-year-old black man during a traffic stop.
Six of the 12 jurors were white, four were black, and two were multiracial, according to the Minnesota newspaper the Star Tribune.
The trial revolved around two issues: whether Chauvin’s use of force was justified and the precise cause of Floyd’s death.
Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo took the stand to condemn Chauvin’s actions, while defence attorney Eric Nelson said force can be “awful but lawful” and that Chauvin should be judged on what any reasonable officer would have done in similar circumstances.
Prosecution witnesses primarily cited asphyxia as Floyd’s cause of death, and medical examiner Andrew Baker said he died from cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement. A lawyer for Chauvin said Floyd died of cardiac arrhythmia, pointing to prior health problems and drug use.
Race has been a central element of the trial and the surrounding attention, although both prosecutors and defence have tried to separate the court case from its social context. Police are rarely charged when they kill someone in the line of duty, let alone convicted.
For Jada Brown, a Minneapolis protester who supports redirecting police department funding to social services, Chauvin’s conviction is “a first step. I don’t think it’s a victory.”