In other words, #BlackLivesMatter.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN–In less than 24 hours, White former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts for the murder of George Floyd, a Black man whose death sparked a rebellion against a system that has long tolerated police killings and brutality.
Chauvin was convicted of two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Outside the courtroom, those who have been protesting the murder cheered and cried tears of joy after the verdict was read. It was a crowd weary not from the events of the past year, but also the recent killing by police officer Kim Potter of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, MN, a Minneapolis suburb ten miles away.
On May 25, 2020, Floyd was arrested after allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at the Cup Foods grocery store in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. He was handcuffed and put face down in the street by Chauvin who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds and onlookers urged him to release his grip because Chauvin was expressing that he was in distress. Two other officers further restrained him while another prevented those onlookers from intervening. Seventeen minutes into the arrest Floyd was unconscious. None of the officers took any action to treat him, and Chauvin kept his knee on his neck until emergence medical technicians arrived. Medical examiners found that Floyd’s heard had stopped while he was being restrained and ruled his death a homicide caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression”. The death sparked a summer of protests and unrest throughout the world that put a spotlight on not just this case but also on the scores of cases throughout the years of Black men and women being assaulted and killed by police, many of them innocents who were not involved in criminal acts. Chauvin was eventually fired and the other officers, J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, were also charged and will face trial in August. On March 12, just before the Chauvin trial began, the Minneapolis city council approved a settlement of $27 million to the Floyd family following a wrongful death lawsuit.
The defense team attempted to paint Floyd’s death as due to illegal drug use and natural causes but despite their efforts could not show that it had any bearing on his death. After the jury was given the case, defense attorney Eric Nelson requested a mistrial, saying that remarks at a rally Saturday evening in Minneapolis by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters that he said implied violence would possibly affect the jury’s verdict. At that rally, Waters called for the assembled to be more proactive. “We’ve got to stay on the street and we’ve got to get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business,” she said. Those remarks however, became a narrative being put forth by conservative media that were actually distorting her comments to claim she had encouraged protesters to riot if they didn’t like the verdict. Despite how the jury was instructed to not follow any news surrounding the case, which would include those remarks, Nelson used them and the purported furor it generated to make the request. “I just don’t know how this jury can really be said to be that they are free from the taint of this, and now that we have US representatives threatening acts of violence in relation to this specific case it’s — it’s mind-boggling to me, judge,” he said.
Judge Peter A. Cahill denied the mistrial request, but still admonished Rep. Waters for even speaking on the case. “I’m aware that Congresswoman Waters was talking specifically about this trial, and about the unacceptability of anything less than a murder conviction, and talk about being ‘confrontational,’” said Judge Cahill. “I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch.”
Over the course of the trial, several elected officials either supporting George Floyd or the police, have expressed their opinion on the Chauvin trial, but none have prompted a discussion about their remarks in court. On Tuesday afternoon, Democrats blocked an attempt by Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to censure Waters in a vote that broke down on party lines.
Demonstrations were expected to take place in the wake of the verdict. Police near the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY were seen mobilizing in anticipation of a 7 PM action to take place there. Reportedly the area was cut into a small quadrant surrounded by barriers, blocking entrance in and out of the main subway station. Some patrol cars are from other precincts.
Chauvin was handcuffed and led out the courtroom by bailiffs. He will remain in custody until sentencing eight weeks from now. He faces up to 40 years in prison.