International 21/04/2021

Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts in George Floyd's death

Minneapolis and America breathe a sigh of relief after verdict

3 min
Mural in tribute to George Floyd, in the city of Minneapolis

WashingtonAn outpouring of joy, hugs, tears, relief and grief filled downtown Minneapolis last night after the jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. The African-American, who was 46, died of asphyxiation under the weight of the ex-cop's knee on May 25, 2020. Chauvin, who will receive his sentence in six weeks, was found guilty on charges of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The first is punishable by a maximum of 40 years in prison, the second by 25 and the third by 10. The nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds he stood over Floyd's neck will mark the rest of his life. With his face partially covered by a mask, Chauvin remained expressionless as he listened to the judge.

In the absence of an expected appeal, the verdict seals Derek Chauvin's fate but still leaves open the debate about the need for police reform demanded by movements like Black Lives Matter. In this respect, the jury's decision, which has kept the United States under high tension since its twelve members were secluded in a hotel on Monday to deliberate, is unlikely to settle the debate. Against the temptation to point to Chauvin as a rotten police apple is the reality of the statistics. At only 13% of the population, the risk of dying in police encounters is twice as high for African-Americans as for whites. Conviction is exceptional. Only seven police officers have been convicted of murder since 2005. Juries tend to give credibility to officers.

The hours leading up to it were marked by remarks from President Joe Biden. "I'm praying for the right verdict", he said at the White House. Although he did not define what in his opinion of the appropriate resolution would be, he described the evidence against the ex-cop as "overwhelming". Controversial words insofar as the jury's deliberations had not been completed and could be interpreted as pressure from the US president on the judiciary to induce a certain resolution.

Biden himself went ahead to clarify that he had made the statements with the knowledge that the jury remained isolated and, therefore, could not hear him. Biden also explained that he had spoken hours earlier with George Floyd's family. "They are asking for peace and quiet no matter what the verdict is", he said. The controversy reached the daily press conference at the White House. Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the president, denied that Joe Biden's words meant interference in judicial independence. "What he was conveying is what many people across the country feel, which is compassion for the family", she concluded.

Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's brother, confirmed the call and explained in an interview on NBC News that Biden "knows what it's like to lose a family member", a reference to the several family tragedies that have affected the president throughout his life, including the death of his son Beau Biden to cancer in 2015. Floyd added that the president "just let us know that he was praying for us, wishing that everything would be OK".

The reading of the verdict brings to a close a trial in which the 12 jurors, six white, four black and two who define themselves as multiracial, have heard from 44 witnesses during 14 days of testimony in Minneapolis. Their resolution comes just over a month before the anniversary of his death, which took place on May 25, 2020. On that day, several police officers responded to a call from the owner of Cup Foods, a grocery store in south Minneapolis, whose owners closed the store yesterday when it became known the verdict was imminent. "Safety is the most important thing", Billy Abumayyaleh, one of the owners, told the New York Times, who said he wanted Chauvin to be found guilty.

In May of last year, the call from his place started the fatal outcome of the African-American. His complaint was that a customer, George Floyd, had just paid with a counterfeit $20 bill. From there began a police intervention led by Derek Chauvin that ended the life of the African-American, 46 years old, dead under the weight of Chauvin's body. The former officer remained for more than nine minutes with his knee pressed against the victim's neck, even when one of his colleagues informed him that Floyd had no pulse. Three of them will stand trial next August.

Video of the incident was recorded by several bystanders nearby, some of whom tried to convince Derek Chauvin to meet George Floyd's demands to let him breathe. The African-American's desperation, summed up in his agonising "I can't breathe", became one of the central cries of the protests that awakened the country after months of half-empty streets as a result of pandemic lockdown. For weeks, the United States experienced the largest protests against racism and police violence, perhaps only comparable to those that took place in 1968, the year Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the civil rights movement, was assassinated. In Washington on June 1, a peaceful demonstration was violently dispersed so that then-President Donald Trump could have his picture taken with the Bible in front of a church near the White House.