Former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, 45, was found guilty of murder and manslaughter by a jury on Tuesday, nearly a year after he used his knee to pin the neck of an African American man, George Floyd, to the ground, killing him. Mr. Chauvin, who is white, faces a potential 40-year jail sentence.
Mr. Floyd's death sparked 'Black Lives Matter' protests for racial justice across America, the likes of which the country had not seen since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Mr. Floyd’s brother, Philonise, speaking to CNN , described sitting in the courtroom listening to the verdict as, "a moment I would never be able to re-live, I will always have inside of me." An emotional Philonise Floyd talked about his faith and listed the names of other victims of police violence.
Tuesday's result was announced after a jury of six white and six racial minorities reached a (necessarily) unanimous verdict deliberated for some ten hours and found Mr. Chauvin guilty on counts of second degree unintentional murder, third degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Mr. Floyd had said, "I can't breathe," repeatedly during the approximately nine minute encounter with Mr. Chauvin on May 25 last year, an encounter that was filmed by bystanders, particularly a teenage girl, whose footage went viral on social media. Witnesses to the incident pleaded with the police to stop let go of Mr. Floyd.
Three other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting murder in the second degree.
The trial was televised and Mr. Chauvin, 45, dressed in a grey suit and wearing a surgical mask, appeared to listen intently, eyes darting from side to side, as the judge read out the verdict for each of three charges brought against him by the State of Minnesota. The judge revoked his bail $1 million and Mr. Chauvin was handcuffed and taken into custody immediately.
While the verdict was welcomed in Washington D.C., the expressions of relief were tempered with reminders that this was a beginning and not an end to systematic racism.
"Today a jury in Minneapolis did the right thing," former U.S. President Barack Obama wrote, saying justice was done in this particular case at least. "But if we're being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial," Mr. Obama, said.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first African American woman in her position, addressed the nation on Tuesday night after the verdict was announced.
"America has a long history of systemic racism," she said, adding that Black people – Black men in particular – have been treated as "less than human" throughout the course of history.
"Black men are fathers, and brothers, and sons, and uncles, and grandfathers, and friends, and neighbours. Their lives must be valued in our education system, in our health-care system, in our housing system, in our economic system, in our criminal-justice system, in our nation," Ms. Harris said.
"It was a murder in the full light of day," Mr. Biden said, calling systemic racism "a stain on the nation's soul." Mr. Biden said he had spoken with the family of Mr. Floyd again – he had spoken with them on Monday.
"I'm praying that the verdict is the right verdict," Mr. Biden had said earlier. It is rare for a sitting President to comment on the outcome of a trial before its conclusion. However, Mr. Biden said he had waited until the jury was sequestered (i.e., without access to the outside world) before calling the family.
"Let's also be clear that such a verdict is also much too rare," Mr. Biden said on Tuesday night. "For so many people, it seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors. A brave young woman with a smartphone camera, a crowd who was traumatised… a murder that lasts [sic] almost ten minutes in broad daylight… officers standing up and testifying against a fellow officer instead of just closing ranks… for so many it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver… just basic accountability."
Mr. Chauvin will be sentenced in approximately eight weeks.