Black Lives Matter. George Floyd’s life mattered.
A mixed-race jury in Minneapolis returned a guilty verdict against former police officer Derek Chauvin on Tuesday, April 20, potentially sending the ex-cop to prison for the rest of his life.
The panel, which included six whites and six Black or multiracial individuals, also sent the kind of message that activists, community leaders and a myriad of Black people the world over have attempted to convey to American law enforcement officials: Black Lives Matter.
“Count one . . . guilty. Count two . . . guilty . . . Count three . . . guilty,” announced Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill.
Chauvin, convicted on charges of second-and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, will be sentenced in the coming months.
Floyd pleaded for his life and his mother as Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last May. Floyd’s death led to protests worldwide as the rallying cry “Black Lives Matter” finally gained momentum in places where it had previously been ignored.
President Joe Biden watched the reading of the verdict from the White House and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz declared a state of emergency, closing schools and sending out hundreds of additional National Guard troops throughout the Minneapolis area.
Law enforcement officials and city leaders in the District of Columbia, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other major cities canceled vacations and leave in preparation for potential unrest.
Hennepin County public employees were ordered to go home early and thousands of people gathered around the courthouse in anticipation of the verdict.
Officials installed a new steel gate and concrete barriers near and around police headquarters in Minneapolis. Nearby businesses boarded up windows and added additional door locks.
The jury’s decision allowed many Americans to breathe a sigh of relief upon the recognition that the family of one Black victim of police violence has received justice. With the guilty verdict, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill could sentence the 45-year-old Chauvin to more than 40 years in prison.
During the more than two-week trial, the defense called seven witnesses while prosecutors brought 38 people to the stand including EMT workers, forensic experts, law enforcement officers and individuals who watched as Chauvin ignored Floyd’s pleas that he could not breathe.
During closing arguments, Chauvin’s defense attempted to pin Floyd’s death on drugs and pre-existing heart conditions – statements to which prosecution witness Dr. Martin Tobin offered a strong rebuttal.
He cited the defense medical expert Dr. David Fowler’s idea that carbon monoxide from vehicle exhaust also helped to cause Floyd’s death as implausible.
“I believe it is not reliable,” Dr. Tobin asserted.
The three other police officers involved in Floyd’s death are scheduled to be tried together in August. They face charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Judge Cahill told the jury in the Chauvin case that he would sequester them during deliberations.
“Plan for long and hope for short,” Judge Cahill said.
But that proved far from prophetic as the panel came back after spending one night sequestered in a hotel where they deliberated for about four hours on Monday. Jurors returned on Tuesday and at about 2 p.m., they reached a unanimous decision on each count after about six additional hours of discussion.
“For the rest of the country, this will be a historic decision,” Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, told reporters.
“But for the family, this is a personal, personal issue. An issue that is deeply personal for every single member.”
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