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 touched off worldwide protests, violence and a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the U.S.
Chauvin, 45, could be sent to prison for decades.
The verdict set off jubilation around the city. People instantly flooded the surrounding streets downtown, running through traffic with banners. Cars blared their horns. Floyd family members who had gathered at a Minneapolis conference room could be heard cheering and even laughing.
The jury of six white people and six Black or multiracial people came back with its verdict after about 10 hours of deliberations over two days. Chauvin was found guilty on all charges: 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 and he was led away with his hands cuffed behind his back. Sentencing will be in two months.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson followed Chauvin out of the courtroom without comment.
“Guilty. Now for justice.” — Aurora Councilmember Juan Marcano
“Today, I think about the murders of Adam Toledo, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and the other Americans who have lost their lives in this country simply because of the color of their skin.” — Democratic State Sen. Kerry Donovan
“No jury’s decision can return George Floyd to the safety of his family’s arms. No single verdict can demolish the structural racism that still plagues our country. But today, the jury reached the right conclusion. Tomorrow, we have to continue the work to ensure that every American, no matter their race, can live in safety with equal protection under the law. The Senate should pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.” — Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett
“I am relieved that the jury came back guilty on all 3 charges. This is just the beginning to ensure equal justice for all.” — State Sen. Chris Kolker, D-Centennial
“It is not lost on me that even in the midst if this trial, people are being killed at the hands of police. This is an important step, but it’s nowhere near the whole of justice. On we fight.” — Aurora Councilmember Alison Coombs
Candice Bailey, who co-led racial justice protests for Elijah McClain, George Floyd and other police violence victims, said the verdict “screams to the City of Aurora to finally be accountable” in McClain’s death.
“Law enforcement does not make you above us,” she said of police. “The outfit you wear to work doesn’t make you untouchable. That’s not real.”
Bailey again called for charges against the police who subdued and detained McClain, the 23-year-old Black Auroran who died days after his interaction with Aurora cops in August 2019, and other Aurora police who were involved.
“It was such a wave of emotions, from beginning to end. I screamed when the guilty verdict came in because I was overjoyed. But the flip side of me found the sadness as profound, because I thought about Elijah McClain.” — Aurora Activist Candice Bailey
“What happened to George Floyd should never happen to anyone ever again. While today’s verdict is a critical win in our battle for justice, there is still much more work that needs to be done to end the violence that Black Americans have experienced at the hands of our police. 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.” — Congressperson Diana DeGette, D-Denver
“This verdict was clear, but it won’t bring George Floyd back to his family. It won’t erase their trauma. Black lives should not be threatened by those sworn to protect them. We ALL must work to reform the system that allowed this to happen.” — Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper
“This was the correct verdict. George Floyd received justice today, our community received justice today & the people received justice today. This trial & this guilty verdict may be just one step toward reconciliation, but it is a powerful moment for the cause of equal justice.” — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
“Our communities hurt for George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black men and women who’ve had their lives cut short as a result of a racist system. This pain is bigger than one trial in Minneapolis can heal. We must tackle the systemic racism that is embedded in our criminal justice system, our government, and every facet of our society head-on.” — Congressperson Jason Crow, D-Aurora
“For centuries, the abuse and murder of Black people at the hands of law enforcement have gone unpunished, but today justice was served – allowing the excruciating pain in our chests to subside. We can finally breathe. Until now there has been virtually no precedent for a police officer to be found guilty on all charges, making this an utterly historic day. But while this decision may be groundbreaking it will not bring George Floyd back to his family, his life is forever lost. All we can hope for now is that the magnitude of his death will lead to meaningful, lasting change. Change that will transform the way in which we hold perpetrators accountable, enshrine systemic protection of Black lives, and put us on a path towards ending the scourge of racism in this country once and for all.” — Colorado Senate members of the Black Caucus: Sen. James Coleman (D-Denver), Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), and Sen. Janet Buckner (D-Aurora).
“I applaud the jury for making the right decision in this landmark case. But make no mistake about it — not only should George Floyd be alive today, but so should Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and countless other men and women of color whose lives were taken without accountability for far too long. We need policing reform at the federal level, and we must continue the work to address systemic racism in our criminal justice system. Because Black Lives Matter.” — Morgan Carroll, Chairperson of the Colorado Democratic Party
“Racism is a genocidal killer. Today, one of its foot soldiers was held accountable. Tomorrow, we go back to fighting. I welcome accountability, but I am reminded that our kids need and deserve our willingness to fight every day.” — Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn
“Nothing will bring George Floyd back, just like nothing will bring Elijah back. But I am happy for the family of George Floyd that the officers who killed him have been held accountable.” — LaWayne Mosley, father of Elijah McClain, through his attorney Mari Newman
“I’m encouraged to see that the atmosphere today is about change and that the old guard of law enforcement is slowly but surely causing consequences. And now you’re seeing people going to jail, you’re seeing state laws being passed to hold law enforcement accountable for abuse of power. The community wants change. The question is: Is our law enforcement community ready to change and not get angry and not get upset and not feel like the world is against them, but truly embrace what the community is asking for, and don’t look at it as an indictment against all of them? I have seen some improvement. I think Aurora PD has been making some improvements, but we’ve still got some work to do. We need to step away from the concept of policing and really embrace the concept of public safety,” he said. — Omar Montgomery, president of the Aurora chapter of the NAACP
“Less than a year ago, the world watched in horror as George Floyd’s life was taken from him. In the days and weeks following his tragic murder, millions of Americans took to the streets to make their voices heard, saying enough is enough. Today, we see a glimmer of hope, a glimpse of justice, but we know we are nowhere near the end of this road. This verdict does not bring back George Floyd. True justice would mean having him here with us today. Let us acknowledge this victory and use this inflection point to bend the arc of social equality toward lasting justice so this doesn’t happen again. My heart goes out to the family of George Floyd, who have been forced to relive this tragedy far too many times, and to the families of countless other Black Americans who have been forced to say goodbye too soon.” — Gov. Jared Polis
I am grateful to the jury in Minnesota for calling the death of George Floyd exactly what it was: murder. I am also grateful to the law enforcement officers who took the stand and testified that the defendant’s conduct was not policing, it was a crime. It takes courage to do the right thing and that is what the jury and police witnesses did. Their service to their community is also a service to ours.I applaud the prosecution team for their professionalism in presenting this case as well. Their outstanding work is an example to which all prosecutors should aspire. — Brian Mason, 17th Judicial District Attorney
As the judge asked jurors if they reached a verdict, a hush fell on the crowd 300 strong in a park adjacent to the courthouse, with people listening to the proceedings on their cellphones. When the final guilty verdict was announced, the crowd roared, 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 police 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.”
An ecstatic Whitney Lewis leaned halfway out a car window in a growing traffic jam of revelers waving a Black Lives Matter flag. “Justice was served,” the 32-year-old from Minneapolis said. “It means George Floyd can now rest.”
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, who pounded away at Chauvin’s witnesses during the trial, said the verdict sends a message to Floyd’s family “that he was somebody, that his life matters.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison commended the bystanders at Floyd’s slow-motion death who “raised their voices because they knew that what they were seeing was wrong,” and then ”told the whole world” what they saw.
Ellison read off the names of others killed in encounters with police and said: “This has to end. We need true justice. That’s not one case. That’s social transformation that says no one is beneath the law and no one is above it.”
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.
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 9 1/2 minutes. Floyd slowly went silent and limp.
Prosecutors played the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, with Jerry Blackwell telling the jury: “Believe your eyes.” And 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 staggering $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,” Frazier testified, while the 19-year-old cashier at the neighborhood market, Christopher Martin, lamented that “this could have been avoided” if only he had rejected the suspect $20 bill.
To make Floyd more than a crime statistic in the eyes of the jury, the prosecution called to the stand his girlfriend, who told the story of how they met and how they struggled with addiction to opioids, and his younger brother Philonise. He recalled how Floyd helped teach him to catch a football and made “the best banana mayonnaise sandwiches.”