The conviction of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin of all charges in the murder of George Floyd has sparked an out burst of joy from his family and civil rights veterans to the President of the United States, who sees the verdict as the beginning of a new chapter in American history.
After a three-week trial, more than 40 witnesses, and 11 hours of jury deliberation, Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
‘A long journey’
President Biden said in a live statement to the nation that the verdict sent a message that justice can be achieved when police officers fail to serve people with respect and dignity.
“But it is not enough,” the president said. “We can’t stop here.”
Biden continued, “In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen and occur again; to ensure that Black and brown people or anyone — so they don’t fear the interactions with law enforcement, that they don’t have to wake up knowing that they can lose their very life in the course of just living their life.
They don’t have to worry about whether their sons or daughters will come home after a grocery store run or just walking down the street or driving their car or playing in the park or just sleeping at home.”
But some question whether there would have been a trial had it not been for a 9:29 second video of Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck, shot by a 17-year-old by-stander, Darnella Frazier.
Frazier captured the May 25, 2020 incident during a trip to a neighborhood store.
“It has been a long journey,” said Philonise Floyd, one of George Floyd’s brothers who spoke during a Minneapolis press conference after the verdict was announced.
The press conference was attended by family members, their lawyer Ben Crump and a host of Civil Rights leaders that included Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.
In his comments, Philonise Floyd cast the jury’s verdict in the context of generations of African Americans who were killed but never had a day in court.
“Emmett Till was the first George Floyd. We ought to always understand that we have to march, we have to protest. I am not just fighting for George I am fighting for everyone in the world. ‘Today we are able to breathe again.”
Moment in history
Less than an hour after Chauvin was convicted by a jury that included 6 whites and 4 blacks, he was handcuffed and walked out of Minneapolis courtroom, people gathered outside the store where Floyd was killed, as well as at intersections where other people died at the hands of police officers across the U.S.
President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris talked to the family by phone after the verdict was rendered and then both addressed the nation from the White House about the significance of this moment in history.
“Today we feel a sigh of relief, but it can’t take away the pain,” Harris told the country. “A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice. This verdict brings us a step closer, and the fact is we still have work to do, we still must reform the system.”
In his remarks Biden said George Floyd “was murdered in the full light of day and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see systemic racism… that is a stain on our nation’s soul. The pain and exhaustion that Black Americans experience every day.”
Far from over
But there was much talk about it being a new day, in talking to regular people in communities across the country, the joy in the wake of the Chauvin verdict was muted by political realities in terms of what will change in their world.
“We still face racism every day in the Black community,” said Nikky Brown, a behavioral therapist from Baltimore.
“Here in Baltimore, we are in the post-traumatic error of Freddie Gray and we have never reached resolution. There is still a fresh wound that has not healed.”
Brown added, “I am happy that there was a guilty verdict; however Black people are guilty every day just by the color of our skin.”
Sylvia Ward, a retired banker from Los Angeles, said, “What he did was cruel and unspeakable, and he should get the maximum amount of time. I remember when the officers were charged in the Rodney King incident, and they were acquitted, and people tried to burn LA down.”
Ward, who has four children and 17 grandchildren, said, “We can’t afford to have this officer getting a light sentence because it is about police officers being held accountable when it comes to how they treat Black and Latinos in our community.”
Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist for The Washington Post.