By Alexis Stevens, Christian Boone | Atlanta Journal-Constitution | April 21, 2021
Like the rest of the country, Atlanta residents awaited the verdict Tuesday afternoon for former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing George Floyd. At 5 p.m., the verdict was announced: Guilty.
Chauvin, who was captured on video as he knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
At Manuel’s Tavern, patrons erupted in cheers as the verdict was read. Before the announcement, nervous energy permeated the room, with most everyone expecting chaos if Chauvin was acquitted.
”There would’ve been rioting in the streets, no question about it,” said Kendric Smith, 77, of Atlanta. “I was surprised. To find him guilty on all three counts was amazing.”
Shelia Bailey, 48, said the verdict was an affirmation of the American judicial system. A not guilty verdict would’ve left many wondering if justice could ever be obtainable in such cases, she said.
”I was so happy they found him guilty on all counts,” Bailey said. “It leaves no room for doubt.”
Sipping beers on Manuel’s back patio, Emory students Titus Hood and Sahil Saihgal said the Chauvin trial has been the talk of campus. Hood said his timeline was filled with reactions, mostly positive, to the verdict.
”Thank God it happened like that,” said Hood, 22. “My mother called and told me if (Chauvin) isn’t (found guilty), stay in your house. She was probably right.”
Saihgal, 21, said the verdict caught him by surprise. “That there was still a worry it could go the other way says something,” said the Emory junior.
The Atlanta Police Department has said it is prepared for any protests that might be prompted by the verdict. Tuesday afternoon, non-critical City of Atlanta employees were told to leave all city buildings and offices and return home, according to a memo obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Due to the pending verdict announcement in the Derek Chauvin trial, all non-mission critical employees are immediately directed to vacate all city facilities and return to the safety of their homes,” the memo stated.
In a social media post, Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., said that no matter the verdict, the response should not be violent.
“Derek Chauvin took George Floyd’s breath, but we WILL NOT let this moment, nor the verdict, take our breath,” King wrote. “Before you make a move after the verdict, take a moment to breathe for George.”
After the verdict, King posted one word: Whew.
Minute-by-minute updates of Atlanta’s reaction:
8:20 p.m.: The crowd at Centennial Park, roughly 75 people, was beginning to disperse.
8:05 p.m.: Jerome Trammel, a 31-year-old television producer, arrived at Centennial Olympic Park with a sign that read “Jail Killer Cops Now.” He said he wasn’t surprised by Tuesday’s verdict given the evidence against Chauvin and the reaction to Floyd’s death last year.
”I wasn’t shocked, but I feel like it’s only a small victory,” Trammel said. “We won’t have justice until we have a fair sentencing and we don’t have real justice until we have an end to police brutality in general.”
He also believes last year’s mass protests played a role in the jury’s decision to convict on all counts. The park remained relatively quiet Tuesday night, but Trammel said it would have been the “complete opposite” had the verdict been different.
”This city would have looked more like the Capitol attack,” he said referring to the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington D.C.
7:58 p.m.: The group of marchers has reached Centennial Park.
7:54 p.m.: U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff released the following statement: ”George Floyd’s murderer has been convicted, but brutality and racial bias will persist in our justice system until we enact reform. I am urging my colleagues in the Senate to pass criminal justice reform that will ensure public safety, rebuild trust between communities and law enforcement, and secure equal justice for all.”
7:37 p.m.: Retired nursing assistant Sugga Myrick said the video of George Floyd’s death made her sick to her stomach.
”It brought tears to my eyes when I saw him posing for the camera with his hands in his pockets,” said Myrick, a lifelong Atlanta resident.
While she’s grateful Chauvin was convicted, Myrick believes an example should be made when it comes to his sentencing. Maybe then police officers will think twice before kneeling on someone’s neck, she said.
”I hope they don’t just give him a slap on the wrist,” she said. “I want the max.”
— Shaddi Abusaid
7:34 p.m.: The marchers temporarily blocked one lane of Edgewood Avenue as they marched downtown. The crowd chanted, “Guilty, guilty, guilty,” and onlookers in cars or buildings held up fists or filmed the procession on their phones as the march passed by.
7:25 p.m.: At the third meeting of the Gwinnett County Police Citizens Advisory Board Tuesday night, members held a moment of silence following the verdict. It came at the request of the vice chair, Marqus Cole, who suggested the board consider taking a minute for reflection.
The group was borne out of the protests over Floyd’s death last summer, and Chairman Sean Goldstein said the verdict was “exactly the sort of event this board was brought together for” — to bridge the gaps between police and the public. He said it was appropriate for the board to mark “another event in that tragedy” with silence.
”That chain of events is a terrible tragedy,” Goldstein said. “Nobody wins there.”
— Arielle Kass
7:15 p.m.: Marchers were heading to Centennial Park.
6:55 p.m.: Jamiliah Robinson, a 24-year-old mental health therapist, said she was relieved when she heard Tuesday’s guilty verdicts.
”Finally we’re getting some type of justice,” Robinson said.
But the Clark Atlanta graduate isn’t convinced Chauvin would have been convicted if George Floyd’s killing hadn’t been captured on cellphone video and broadcast into homes across the country. She’s also skeptical the officer’s conviction will result in any meaningful police reform at the national level.
”They’re still going to kill Black people,” she said. “It’s been happening for hundreds of years now and I don’t think much is really going to change.”
— Shaddi Abusaid
6:52 p.m.: U.S. Sen Raphael Warnock reacts to the verdict: “First of all, my heart goes out to the George Floyd family . Nothing will make this completely right for them, but I hope that they will find some sense of peace in the recognition that George Floyd was a human being and that Derek Chauvin is responsible for his death. We’ve got to do the work that we need to do here to put forward police reform and criminal justice reform. And I will be focused on that.”
— Tia Mitchell
6:40 p.m.: “I wish Black people and people of color were not constantly traumatized by state-sanctioned violence against us,” said Terrica Ganzy, deputy director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. ”The verdict in this case provides short-term relief that this time the officer didn’t get away with murder. Without massive changes that work to prevent state-sanctioned violence we can have no confidence that this verdict is a harbinger to an end to society’s criminalization and devaluation of Black people.”
6:33 p.m.: A rally with about 40 people has begun at the George Floyd Memorial on Edgewood Avenue. They chanted “Victory!” and “Black Lives Matter!” while carrying signs.
6:30 p.m.: Atlanta attorney Chris Stewart, who represents Floyd’s family, choked back tears of “pure joy and pure shock because days like this don’t happen.” This wasn’t just a victory for the Floyd family or Minnesota, said Stewart, who also represents the family of Rayshard Brooks, fatally shot last summer following an altercation with two Atlanta police officers. ‘This was an entire world’s case. and justice was done,” Stewart said. “But it shouldn’t be so hard to obtain.”
6:19 p.m.: Said Sewell was a Morehouse College senior who joined a march from the Atlanta University Center to the state Capitol on April 29, 1992. to protest the not guilty verdicts in the first Rodney King trial. Sewell, 49, now an educator at the center, watched with “my stomach in knots” at his home Tuesday afternoon before a jury found a former Minneapolis police officer guilty of murdering George Floyd.
“I’m saddened that my stomach was in knots that even though we saw a man killed on television that I was still worried that justice may not be as blind as it should be,” said Sewell, director of the center’s division of academic affairs, sponsored research and student success. “I’m overjoyed that justice was served, but saddened that we were worried it might not have been this way as it has been in previous cases.”
Sewell watched the verdict in the first Rodney King trial in 1992 with a group of classmates on campus. They were angered by the jury’s verdict and marched in search of justice.
Over the years, as Sewell worked in other states, he watched case after case of Black men and women killed in encounters with police. He understood when students voiced their frustration last year after Floyd’s killing. “The students were hurt,” he said. Some students marched, as he did 29 years ago.
— Eric Stirgus
6:10 p.m.: The Rev. Timothy McDonald, Senior Pastor at the First Iconium Baptist Church, said up until the verdict was read, he like millions of other Black Americans was nervous.
”Because of history, we have had videos and witnesses before and the officers were still set free,” McDonald said, going back to cases like Emmett Till, Rodney King and Trayvon Martin. “This broke the mode and went against the grain. They finally gave a Black man justice and I pray it’s not the only time this will happen. The system finally got one right. I am watching Black America and white America rejoice and people across America are exhaling. Today, America should be proud.”
6:05 p.m.: In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms shared bittersweet remarks on Chauvin’s guilty verdict: ”While I am grateful that the verdict is guilty on all three counts, there is no verdict or punishment that will bring George Floyd back to his family,” Bottoms said in a statement.”As tragedies have propelled our nation into a level of needed consciousness and action in the past, it is my sincere hope that the tragic death of George Floyd will forever be our reminder that the work towards reform, healing and reconciliation is not a one-time event. We must continue this work if we ever hope to truly be one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
— Wilborn Nobles
5:52 p.m.: The Rev. Major Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP. “The verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial is a much-needed acknowledgment of the violence that Black people continue to suffer from every single day at this moment. We don’t find joy in any conviction in an unjust criminal legal system but we do mark this moment as a bending of the moral arc of the universe towards justice.”
5:46 p.m.: Atlanta criminal defense attorney Bill Morrison said he was not surprised by the guilty verdicts. “The first week of the trial, the state spent its time proving Chauvin was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “The remainder of the trial they showed he was guilty to a mathematical certainty.”
5:40 p.m.: Civil rights attorney Gerald Griggs stood with a Black Lives Matter flag at the George Floyd mural on Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta after the verdict came in.”It renews my belief that if you apply pressure and the will of the people, justice will be served,” Griggs said. “It sends a message to the rest of the country. It’s time for DA’s offices to step up and make sure we try these cases in a courtroom and justice will come.”
Melodee Lovett, 23, stopped by the Floyd mural to take a picture. She said her friend is the sister of Rayshard Brooks, who was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer last year.
”This is just the beginning,” she said. “It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
— J.D. Capelouto
5:35 p.m.: “Justice has been served,” said the Rev. Shanan Jones, president of Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta. “Indeed, Dr. King was right, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Along that arc we have seen countless cases of Black lives being threatened and harmed and, in the most extreme cases, killed by those who have been sworn by law to serve and to protect.”
5:30 p.m.: While many cheered the verdicts as healing and appropriate, they did not appease the political fringes.
Reaction among left-wing activists was mixed, with some calling for action regardless of the guilty verdicts.”In order to sustain the social order, the ruling class will sacrifice a few of their operatives from time to time. Don’t be fooled by a guilty verdict today,” tweeted Cooperation Jackson, a Mississippi-based progressive economic group that promotes worker-owed cooperatives.
— Chris Joyner
5:25 p.m.: Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation released the following statement: ”In these types of trials, the criminal justice system has historically failed Black families, further permeating and validating white supremacy within institutions. Today, however, there is a small incremental step toward accountability. We hope this guilty verdict begins to show that white supremacy will not win.
White supremacy has no place in democracy, especially one that is supposed to guarantee us our freedom to live. But let us also be clear that this still does not bring our loved ones back. We do not get George Floyd back. His daughter and family have to grow up without him. His family continues his legacy through the George Floyd Memorial Foundation. And Black Lives Matter will continue to call for abolition because we ultimately believe abolition will ensure the freedom of Black people.
BLMGNF will continue to work toward abolition and Black liberation — one where Black people across the diaspora thrive, experience joy, and are no longer defined by their struggles. We will continue to heal the past, re-imagine the present, and invest in the future of Black lives.”
5:14 p.m.: Congresswoman Nikema Williams, Chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, released the following statement: “Today’s guilty verdict is a pivotal moment for policing in America. The conviction of Derek Chauvin sends the message that we can and will hold officers accountable. But, it’s important to note this is only the beginning. This one case, this instance of justice, is what is deserved and overdue for so many other families. “Although nothing can bring George Floyd back, my hope is that his family can find some solace in knowing that justice was served. “We are done dying.”
5:11 p.m.: NAACP President and CEO, Derrick Johnson released the following statement: “While justice landed Derek Chauvin behind bars for killing George Floyd, no amount of justice will bring Gianna’s father back. The same way a reasonable police officer would never suffocate an unarmed man to death, a reasonable justice system would recognize its roots in white supremacy and end qualified immunity. Police are here to protect, not lynch. We will not rest until all in our community have the right to breathe.”
5:08 p.m.: The ACLU of Georgia released the following statement in reaction to the verdict: “Across the state of Georgia people stood up and demanded justice for George Floyd. This verdict is an affirmation that democracy can be made to work. The impact of Mr. Floyd will be felt across our state in the new elected officials who were inspired to run on platforms of police and criminal justice system reform and the voters who marched from the streets to the voting booth and supported policy reform,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.
5:02 p.m.: A jury announced that Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
— Staff writers Ernie Suggs, Bill Rankin and Sheila Poole contributed to this report.