Chauvin verdict: rare conviction may set a new precedent

Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull, Flickr

After a trial that lasted less than a month and only 10 hours of deliberation, former police officer Derek Chauvin has been found guilty on all charges, including two murder charges, related to the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.

The trial began on March 29 for three charges against Chauvin: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. This set of charges was spurred by debate and appeals, but in the end, all convictions were made.

Despite video evidence of the event being filmed and released 11 months ago, the prosecution still had to prove the intent of the murder, while the defense tried to prove Floyd’s death was not caused by the brutal assault. Many people who were familiar with the rarity of arrests in police brutality cases feared even the video evidence would not be enough to sway the jury.

Though the trial has ended, sentencing will not be announced for some eight weeks. The maximum sentencing Chauvin could face is 40 years for second-degree unintentional murder, 25 years for third-degree murder and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter. According to the New York Times, Judge Peter Cahill is solely responsible for sentencing.

Since the trial ended on April 20, social media has been flooded with posts announcing the verdict. The LA Times posted a YouTube video of Floyd’s family cheering and crying as they watched the verdict announcement.

“Seeing him handcuffed and walking out of that courthouse, like my brother was handcuffed, it tells me he has no more power,” said sister Latonya Floyd. “I’m so happy, I’m so, so happy right now.”

Responses from the public have been varied, though. Many have questioned if this outcome represented justice or accountability, and some question if it presents either.

“I would not call today's verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said. “But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice, and now the cause of justice is in your hands.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) posted on Twitter, “True justice for George Floyd means renewing our conviction to create a world where police do not have the opportunity to use violence to target Black people.”

Calls for reform do not come without acknowledgment of the impact of this verdict. Of all the police officers involved in fatal shootings, especially those which have taken Black lives, few are convicted and even less for murder charges.

The Star Tribune, the largest Minnesota newspaper, reports that there have been 208 police-involved deaths in the state since 2000. But Chauvin is believed to be one of only two Minnesota police officers to be convicted in an on-duty death case.

It is without debate that the death of George Floyd — remembered as a musician, a son, a brother and a father — has changed the social discourse about race in America for good. Black Lives Matter protests sparked by outrage for his death in 2020 make it likely the largest social movement in U.S. history. 

In his memory, Americans are demanding and promising change. Floyd’s daughter, Gianna Floyd, sees this future:

“Daddy changed the world.”