After deliberating for around ten hours, a Minnesota jury Tuesday found former Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder in the killing of former Houstonian George Floyd.
The 12-person jury’s decision on Tuesday capped-off one of the highest-profile trials in recent memory, in a case that caught the attention of viewers around the world as the court’s proceedings were broadcast live over the past three weeks.
Chauvin was found guilty on three separate charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He now faces up to 40 years in prison for the second-degree murder charge alone.
Floyd’s killing in May 2020 sparked a summer of protests and outrage from police reform and racial justice advocates, who viewed the former Third Ward resident’s killing as yet another case of overly aggressive law enforcement leading to the death of a Black person in the United States.
The cell phone footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes as Floyd called out for help spread like wildfire on social media last year. The anger over Floyd’s killing sent over 60,000 Houstonians to march through downtown in June, a peaceful protest save for a few incidents of damage to police vehicles, although nearly 200 people were arrested by the Houston Police Department for allegedly blocking roadways and disobeying police orders.
Tuesday’s verdict came after the 12-person jury heard from 38 witnesses brought by the prosecution — including Minneapolis’ Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo and multiple other police officers who criticized Chauvin’s use of force against Floyd — as well as seven witnesses brought by Chauvin’s defense team.
Throughout the trial, the prosecution attempted to portray Chauvin’s actions as out of line with the training he received as a member of the Minneapolis Police Department.
“He could have listened to bystanders. He could have listened to fellow officers. He could have listened to his own training. He knew better. He just didn’t do better. This wasn’t policing. This was murder,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said during closing statements Monday.
“This is not an anti-police prosecution. It’s a pro-police prosecution,” Schleicher said, arguing that holding Chauvin accountable for Floyd’s killing was a necessary step in rooting out biased officers that put the public at risk.
Chauvin’s defense attempted to cast doubt that the former officer’s actions were directly responsible for Floyd’s death, pointing to traces of fentanyl and methamphetamine found in Floyd’s bloodstream, as well as a heart condition found in his autopsy.
"Do not let yourselves be misled by a single still frame image. Put the evidence in its proper context," Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson said Monday.
But Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist called to the stand by the prosecution, testified that Floyd’s behavior at the time of his death didn’t match what would be expected from someone suffering from a drug overdose and claimed that even someone without Floyd’s pre-existing health conditions could have died if they’d been similarly pinned-down at the throat under someone’s knee for nearly ten minutes.
Earlier Tuesday, President Joe Biden said that he’d recently spoken with Floyd’s family, and was “praying the verdict is the right verdict.”
“It’s overwhelming, in my view,” Biden said, noting that he chose not to speak about his thoughts on Chauvin’s guilt until the jury had been isolated from the public for its deliberations.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued this statement:
“As George Floyd’s hometown, the people of Harris County continue to feel his loss deep in our hearts. His family, his neighbors, his classmates and his community will never forget his death and what it represents. While the justice system served its purpose today, there’s much more work to be done toward a smarter and fairer criminal justice system. George Floyd’s legacy will be with us every step of the way.”
And the Houston ISD issued two statements, one from it as a group and the second from Interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan:
Like many across the country, HISD students and staff have been closely following the trial in the death of Jack Yates alum George Floyd. As educators, we have created a place for our students to feel safe, included, and cared for as they navigate their thoughts and feelings around Mr. Floyd’s tragic death. Our social and emotional learning department, as well as school counselors, will be available to provide ongoing support to students during this emotional time.
Dr. Lathan Statement
On this day, we say his name: George Floyd. His face is seared into our memory, and his final words have pierced our hearts. His image is emblazoned on murals from all over the world to Jack Yates High School, his alma mater. An HISD alum awakened not only the moral consciousness of a nation, but the world. That is George Floyd’s legacy – and now a part of HISD’s history. But our future can be different by shifting the dialogue on social justice in our country. As the Interim Superintendent of Houston ISD, I take that responsibility very seriously and strive to achieve educational equity in our communities. I firmly believe students will take the lessons they learn in our classrooms and build a better future for all of us.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner addressed the Chauvin verdicts from City Hall Tuesday afternoon, calling the jury’s decision proof that “Justice has been served.”
“The Floyd family has waited for almost a year for this verdict,” he continued.
Turner said the guilty verdicts don’t diminish in any way the need to implement the reforms to the Houston Police Department recommended last year by the task force on policing he chartered. “It simply means we need to move forward,” he said, and claimed that “there will be announcements” as soon as next week about specific new changes to HPD policies.
“There’s a lot of work that we all have to do to move forward,” Turner said,
“That’s my thinking: what do we need to do so that we don’t have to relive these moments over and over and over again?” he said. “So you have to be reflective, and then we have to take the necessary steps to make the society in which we live better.”
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner thanked the Floyd family, whom he said “have shown the world how when you are in pain, you stand up with class.”
“If the Floyd family can stand up in peace and bring people together, surely to God everybody else can,” Finner continued. “It’s a day of reflection, but it’s also a day of healing, and a message to everyone that no one is above the law, and especially those of us who’ve taken an oath and swore to uphold the law and protect one another.”
“As an African American man, as a man in general, as a police officer who has spent my entire adult life serving, I was hurt. I was angry, just as anybody else” Finner said of his reaction to Floyd’s killing this past summer.
“I’m just glad to see justice done,” he said.
Black Lives Matter Houston organizer Ashton Woods announced that at 7 p.m. Tuesday, the group will hold a vigil honoring Floyd at MacGregor Park in response to the Chauvin guilty verdicts, during which BLM Houston will “demand accountability and justice” for Black lives in Houston and around the country.
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