MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murdering George Floyd in a landmark trial that centered on police brutality and spoke to a nation shaken over the last year by protests against racial injustice and demands to reform law enforcement.
The verdicts that ended the 16-day trial came in swift succession as Judge Peter Cahill read what the jury had rendered: Chauvin was guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. They were all the counts against him, and in a matter of minutes, with his face hidden by a mask, Chauvin was handcuffed and led from the wood-paneled courtroom.
It took the jurors — six white, four Black, two who identify as biracial — less than 12 hours to return the verdict against Chauvin. He could face up to 40 years in prison.
The moment marked a step toward justice as the white former officer was convicted in the death of Floyd, a Black man, whose cries — “I can’t breathe” — will be forever etched in the country’s psyche.
On Tuesday, a city and nation on edge received the verdict as demonstrators gathered outside the fortified downtown Minneapolis courthouse and law enforcement around the country braced for widespread protests.
“We’re going to try to leave here today knowing that America is a better country,” said Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who is representing the Floyd family. “America, let’s pause for a moment to proclaim this historical moment not just for the legacy of George Floyd, but for the legacy of America.”
He added, “We frame this moment for all of us, not just for George Floyd. This is a victory for those who champion humanity over inhumanity, those who champion justice over injustice, those who champion morals over immorality. America, let’s lean into this moment.”
Outside the courthouse, hundreds stood shoulder to shoulder. They prayed, they wept, they felt — in this moment — the criminal justice system had upheld the law.
At a nearby hotel lobby, flanked by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Crump, Floyd’s younger brother Philonise said he had prayed for a conviction.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said, tears streaming down his face.
He vowed to keep fighting for the countless other families of Black people killed by police who have not been vindicated by their day in court.
“I’m going to put up a fight every day, because I’m not just fighting for George anymore. I’m fighting for everybody around this world,” he said.
The harrowing death of Floyd in police custody May 25, captured on bystander video, led to massive protests across the U.S. — from Los Angeles to New York, Miami to Seattle — and in other nations. Young and old, people of all races and religions marched with the same mission: justice.
In the graphic video, which was presented as evidence during the trial, several bystanders urged Chauvin — who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes — to stop applying pressure. Before his body went limp on the pavement, Floyd, 46, also pleaded with the officer, telling him he couldn’t breathe.
Prosecutors here in Minneapolis called dozens of witnesses — people at the scene, law enforcement, medical experts — to prove their case that Chauvin’s force was excessive and not in line with Police Department policy.
On Tuesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted the case, referred to those at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, who witnessed Floyd’s final moments, as a “bouquet of humanity,” a phrase also used by his lead attorney Jerry Blackwell.
“They stopped and they raised their voices ... because they saw (Floyd’s) humanity,” said Ellison. “We owe them our gratitude for performing their civic duty. ”
Chauvin’s defense attorneys sought to focus on Floyd’s drug use and heart problems, arguing that those factors caused his death.
The conviction of Chauvin for murder is rare: Most officers charged with killing people while on duty are acquitted. In recent years, two police officers in Dallas County who killed unarmed Black people in separate cases were convicted of murder.
The Chauvin verdict arrives at a crucial moment in this country as a heightened focus on police brutality has led to calls to defund police departments and overhaul policing in some of the nation’s largest cities.
In December, the Minneapolis City Council voted to divert nearly $8 million of the department’s $180 million budget to community-based approaches to policing. Last month, the city announced it would also pay Floyd’s family $27 million in a settlement.
The jury’s decision Tuesday also came amid increased anguish in the Minneapolis area. Last week, 10 miles from the courthouse where Chauvin’s trial played out, a white officer in the suburb of Brooklyn Center shot and killed 20-year-old Black resident Daunte Wright. Officials said the officer, a 26-year veteran, mistook her gun for her Taser.