In a momentous verdict that resonated across the United States, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all charges in the death of George Floyd, whose killing on May 25, 2020 ignited a global movement against police brutality and racial injustice.
The 12-person jury reached a unanimous decision on April 20, 2021, convicting Chauvin of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The trial, which lasted for three weeks, included 45 witnesses and hours of emotional testimony.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest. Floyd repeatedly pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, while bystanders urged Chauvin to let up. The harrowing scene was captured on video, sparking widespread outrage and months of protests demanding justice for Floyd and other victims of police brutality.
The guilty verdicts were met with relief and celebration by Floyd’s family, as well as civil rights activists and protesters who have called for systemic changes in law enforcement. People gathered in the streets of Minneapolis, and cities across the nation, to mark the historic moment.
“It feels like we can finally breathe again,” said George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, after the verdict was announced. He further added, “I want everybody to be peaceful right now, but people are torn and hurt, because they’re tired of seeing black men die.”
Legal experts say the verdict sets a significant precedent for holding law enforcement officers accountable for their actions, particularly when it comes to the use of excessive force. The trial was unique in that several police officers, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, testified against Chauvin, breaking the so-called “blue wall of silence.”
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the nation after the verdict, vowing to continue working for racial justice and police reform. Biden described the verdict as a “giant step forward in the march toward justice in America.”
The three other former Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest and death — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas K. Lane — faced charges of aiding and abetting and each received respective federal sentences.
While the guilty verdicts marked a significant milestone in the fight against police brutality and racial injustice, activists and leaders emphasize that more work needs to be done to prevent future tragedies and ensure that the legal system continues to hold those in power accountable for their actions.