By Stanley Dunlap | Georgia Recorder | April 20, 2021
This story was updated 9:08 a.m. April 21 with reaction from Gov. Brian Kemp.
The Georgia Democratic Party and ACLU are among those praising a Minnesota jury’s verdict Tuesday afternoon after it found a former Minneapolis police officer guilty of murdering George Floyd.
The Hennepin County jury deliberated 10 hours before finding Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, charges that come with a maximum 40-year sentence.
Chauvin was taken into custody following the verdict to be sentenced at a later date.
Last May’s release of the cell phone recording showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes sparked protests across the country over racial justice and police brutality.
The protests spread throughout Georgia with another rallying cry stemming from the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery after being chased by three white men down a suburban Brunswick street.
And on Tuesday, people demanding justice for Floyd’s family got a conviction, with Chauvin held accountable for killing the 46-year-old outside a convenience store on May 25.
“This verdict is an affirmation that democracy can be made to work,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “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.”
Jury deliberations began Monday evening after days of testimony that included defense arguments that Floyd could have died of a heart condition or drug reaction and Chauvin declining to testify.
Justice came after prosecutors laid out a case over the course of 15 days that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen, or asphyxiation, after Chauvin, a 19-year veteran on the Minneapolis police force, knelt on Floyd.
In the video taken by then-17-year-old Darnella Frazier, Floyd’s face is pinned to the pavement, with Chauvin casually atop him, grinding his knee into Floyd’s neck until he went unconscious in 4 minutes and 45 seconds, had no pulse after 5 minutes and died on the street, according to a breathing expert.
After closing arguments, Nelson moved for a mistrial, saying the overwhelming media coverage of the case — including comments from elected officials — was impossible to ignore. (Jurors were not sequestered until they began deliberating Monday afternoon).
The three other officers who were on the scene — Thomas Lane, who held down Floyd’s legs; J. Alexander Kueng, who knelt on Floyd’s back and Tou Thao, who kept onlookers at bay — are scheduled to go on trial in August for aiding and abetting Chauvin.
The maximum sentence is 40 years for second-degree unintentional murder, 25 years for third-degree murder and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter. But Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a much shorter sentence — 12 ½ years — for murder for a person with no criminal history. Manslaughter has a presumptive sentence of four years for someone with no criminal history.
U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said the verdict does much more than just confirm that Chauvin killed an innocent Black man.
“Though this verdict is one step towards justice, it will not bring back George Floyd, nor the countless Black Americans killed at the hands of law enforcement,” she said in a statement.
Shortly after the verdict, Georgia National Guard soldiers and state troopers began setting up outside the state Capitol in anticipation of large crowds gathering in downtown Atlanta.
When last year’s peaceful late spring protests in Atlanta devolved into nighttime rioting, Gov. Brian Kemp called in the National Guard to protect property.
But while civil rights organizations celebrated the Chauvin trial outcome, many advocates also noted that many other deaths of Black men and women haven’t come to a similar conclusion.
Other high-profile cases can’t be forgotten, said Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Most cases involving police killings don’t have video capturing what happened,” she said. “The fact that justice was done in this case cannot allow us to forget about the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, among many others. But this case galvanized a movement for justice that has expanded across the country.”
The Floyd case also intensified the push from some Georgia elected officials and groups like Black Lives Matter for police reform, including redirecting funds to agencies equipped to handle mental health and other issues and banning tactics such as chokeholds.
But some Georgia lawmakers introduced pro-law enforcement measures this year.
Republican lawmakers ushered through a law that would prevent local governments from cutting police budgets by more than 5% within a year. Another plan that would have ratcheted up penalties for unruly protesters failed to make it through.
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus said that while justice was served with the Chauvin case, it also wants officers held responsible for the recent deaths of 20-year-old Duante Wright outside of Minneapolis and 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago.
“We have a collective responsibility to reform law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” Chairwoman Sen. Tonya Anderson said. “Freedom and justice do not belong to a few, but to all who call this beautiful country home. The work continues.”
Minnesota Reformer reporter Deena Winter contributed to this report.