Chauvin verdict: Guilty on 3 charges in George Floyd’s death

Detroit BLM activists vow to keep fighting for justice

By: and - April 20, 2021 6:30 pm

Rev. Lawrence Richardson of the Linden Hills United Church of Christ (right), offers comfort to Rev. Jia Starr Brown of First Covenant Church (left) at George Floyd Square. | Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer.

The jury has spoken, and found Derek Chauvin guilty in the death of George Floyd.  The former Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd, who was handcuffed and face down on the pavement, for more than 9 minutes at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue last May. 

Chauvin was taken into custody and will be sentenced in eight weeks.

The incident was filmed by a teenager and set off a national racial reckoning after decades in which police killed Black men and were rarely punished.

Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder; guilty of third-degree murder; and guilty of second-degree manslaughter. The jury deliberated for 10 hours. 

Minnesotans reacted with relief and satisfaction that justice was done.

“I’m overjoyed. I feel like we can finally start doing the work that we need to do,” said the Rev. Lawrence Richardson of Linden Hills United Church of Christ. “My hope is that we can be an example for communities around the nation and around the world of what racial reconciliation can look like.”

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listened to closing statements on April 19, 2021, in his trial for killing George Floyd.

Richardson joined others in George Floyd Square, the area in south Minneapolis near where Floyd was murdered and has become a place of collective grief and celebration since his death.

Justice came after prosecutors laid out a case over the course of 15 days that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen, or asphyxiation, after Chauvin, a 19-year veteran on the Minneapolis police force, knelt on Floyd, 46.  

In the video taken by then-17-year-old Darnella Frazier, Floyd’s face is pinned to the pavement, with Chauvin casually atop him, grinding his knee into Floyd’s neck until he went unconscious in 4 minutes and 45 seconds, had no pulse after 5 minutes and died on the street, according to a breathing expert.

Frazier testified during the trial that she’s stayed up nights “apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting — not saving his life.”

Attorney General Keith Ellison thanked George Floyd’s family and the community for their patience before the trial. He also thanked the witnesses who testified after watching Chauvin press his knee into Floyd’s neck. They performed “simple yet profound acts of courage” in telling the truth, Ellison said.

“Why did they stop? They didn’t know George Floyd,” he said. “They stopped and raised their voices, and they even challenged authority because they saw [Floyd’s] humanity.”

Eliza Wesley, one of the caretakers at George Floyd Square, held court as people waited to learn the news. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Ellison said a verdict can’t end the pain Floyd’s family is experiencing, but he hopes it helps them heal. He called on community members to continue working toward criminal justice reform, saying “it’s in your hands now.”

“The work of our generation is to put unaccountable law enforcement behind us,” Ellison said. “One conviction like this one can create a powerful new opening to shed old practices and reset relationships.”

Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson argued Floyd died from a toxic mix of fentanyl and methamphetamine and health problems ranging from heart disease to hypertension, noting the county medical examiner found no evidence of injury to Floyd’s neck or back.

After closing arguments, Nelson moved for a mistrial, saying the overwhelming media coverage of the case — including comments from elected officials — was impossible to ignore. (Jurors were not sequestered until they began deliberating Monday afternoon). 

The three other officers who were on the scene — Thomas Lane, who held down Floyd’s legs; J. Alexander Kueng, who knelt on Floyd’s back and Tou Thao, who kept onlookers at bay — are scheduled to go on trial in August for aiding and abetting Chauvin.

The maximum sentence is 40 years for second-degree unintentional murder, 25 years for third-degree murder and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter. But Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a much shorter sentence — 12½ years — for murder for a person with no criminal history. Manslaughter has a presumptive sentence of four years for someone with no criminal history.

“I know that it had impact,” said Nakia Wallace, a Detroit Will Breathe co-founder, about spring and summer long-demonstrations in 2020. “But we have to continue to protest.” | Ken Coleman

Detroit demonstrators praise verdict 

About 50 people rallied outside Detroit Police Department headquarters on a chilly Tuesday evening to react to the Floyd murder trial verdict. 

Detroit Will Breathe (DWB,) the leading Black Lives Matter organization in America’s largest predominantly African-American city, said that protests around the world that began after Floyd’s death helped to secure the guilty verdict.

“I know that it had an impact,” said Nakia Wallace, a DWB co-founder. “But we have to continue to protest.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said on Tuesday that the case had been “rightfully been recognized as murder by the jurors.”

“It is now the obligation of elected officials, community leaders and the law enforcement community throughout this country to recognize the need for reforms to transition from policing by force to cooperative efforts to create safer communities,” said Nessel in a written statement. “For too long, fear and brutality have been at the heart of how some individuals in law enforcement view their roles within our communities. The result has had devastating consequences for residents, and particularly the Black community and other communities of color.”

Nessel lifted up her seven proposals offered in 2020 aimed at police reform. They are designed to “seek to increase transparency surrounding law enforcement agencies and ensure accountability from and for law enforcement officers,” she said. 

“It is time to acknowledge that there are problems with how and who we police,” Nessel added.  “Multiple lives have been lost at the hands of law enforcement since the death of Mr. Floyd. This serves as a constant  reminder that those in communities of color continue to be wronged by a system that has repeatedly failed to protect them.” 

Nessel’s legislation would create oversight for law enforcement agencies and their officers similar to many of the professions and professional licenses required across the state, along with a comprehensive approach to evaluating misconduct complaints and imposing disciplinary actions by a single agency, Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.

Steve Conn, a Detroit activist and a former Detroit Federation of Teachers president, attended the evening Detroit rally and was pleased about the verdict. 

“The only way that you get justice is to keep it going. March, march, march and march,” he said.

Historic case

The case will be studied for decades, given its historical importance and legal idiosyncrasies.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher said he got a call from Attorney General Keith Ellison, who asked him to help with the case. When a call like that comes, he said, “Don’t overthink it,” just do it.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said that “No verdict can bring George Perry Floyd back,” but the verdict shows “He was somebody … and that’s important.” Blackwell said he hopes it brings us along the road “to a better humanity.”

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank says it was a privilege to get to know the Floyd family.

“This is for you, George Floyd,” he said, choking up and walking away from the microphone.

A version of this story first ran in the Advance’s sister outlet, the Minnesota Reformer. Reformer reporters Max Nesterak and Ricardo Lopez contributed reporting. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter is a freelance journalist for the Minnesota Reformer who has covered state and local government in four states over the past three decades.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.