'We are able to breathe again': George Floyd's family hails Chauvin verdict, but says fight for justice not over
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on Tuesday of murdering George Floyd, a milestone in the fraught racial history of the United States and a rebuke of law enforcement's treatment of Black Americans. Reacting to the development, George Floyd's brother Philonise, speaking at a news conference with several family members after the verdict, said, "We are able to breathe again" but added that the fight for justice was not over. "We have to protest because it seems like this is a never-ending cycle," he was quoted as saying by news agency Reuters.
A 12-member jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty of all three charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter after considering three weeks of testimony from 45 witnesses, including bystanders, police officials and medical experts. Deliberations began on Monday and lasted just over 10 hours.
In a confrontation captured on video last year, Derek Chauvin, a white veteran of the police force, was seen pushing his knee into the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in handcuffs, for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020. Chauvin and three fellow officers were attempting to arrest Floyd, accused of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a grocery store.
Floyd's death prompted protests against racism and police brutality in many US cities, including Minneapolis, and other countries last summer, even as the world grappled with the coronavirus pandemic. The intersection of race and law enforcement has long been contentious in the United States, underscored by a series of deadly incidents involving white police officers and Black people in recent years.
Chauvin could now face up to 40 years in prison. Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, Chauvin faces 12-1/2 years in prison for his murder conviction as a first-time criminal offender. Prosecutors could seek a longer sentence of up to 40 years if Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill determines that there were "aggravating factors." Cahill said Chauvin's sentencing was likely eight weeks away.
While the US criminal justice system and juries have long given leeway and some legal protection to police officers who use violence to subdue civilians, the Minneapolis jurors found that Chauvin had crossed the line and used excessive force.
The Minneapolis police department fired Chauvin and the three other officers the day after Floyd's murder. The three others are due to face trial later this year on aiding-and-abetting charges.
The jurors remained still and quiet as the verdict was read. Chauvin, wearing a grey suit with a blue tie as well as a light-blue face mask, nodded and stood quickly when the judge ruled that his bail was revoked. He was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs and placed in the custody of the Hennepin County sheriff.
The conviction triggered a wave of relief and reflection not only across the United States but in countries around the world.
"It was a murder in the full light of day and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism," US president Joe Biden said in televised remarks. "This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America." Biden and vice president Kamala Harris watched the verdict being read out along with staff in the White House's private dining room, the White House said. Biden, Harris and first lady Jill Biden all spoke with Philonise Floyd.
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis said in a statement published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that "there are no winners in this case, and we respect the jury's decision," adding: "We need to stop the divisive comments, and we all need to do better to create a Minneapolis we all love."
Outside the courthouse, a crowd of several hundred people erupted in cheers when the verdict was announced - a scene that unfolded in cities across the country. Car horns honked, demonstrators blocked traffic and chanted: "George Floyd" and "All three counts." At George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, the intersection where Floyd was killed and which was later named in his honour, people screamed, applauded and some threw dollar bills in the air in celebration.
While celebrating the verdict, protesters called for justice in the case of Daunte Wright, a Black man who was fatally shot by a police officer after a routine traffic stop on April 11, just a few miles from where Derek Chauvin stood trial. Kimberly Potter, who has turned in her badge, has been charged with manslaughter in that case.
(Inputs from Reuters)