India — After a high-profile trial followed closely in America and around the world, a jury has held former US police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of all three charges over the controversial death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year – including unintentionally killing the Black man – which had sparked a global wave of anti-racism protests.
Soon after the verdict was delivered in Minneapolis, US President Joe Biden called it a “giant step forward” in the fight against systemic racism, and said Floyd’s killing was a “a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the (racism)”, which he said was “a stain on our nation’s soul”.
Vice-President Kamala Harris said, “Today, we feel a sigh of relief. Still, it cannot take away the pain. 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.”
Floyd’s death under Chauvin’s knee outside a Minneapolis grocery store on May 25, 2020 had triggered countrywide protests and outrage that had turned violent in the initial days with the National Guard being deployed to various parts of the US.
The unrest – which swelled under the anti-racism slogan “Black Lives Matter” – quickly spread beyond the shores of the US and led to the toppling of a statue of a slave-trader in Bristol, UK; sparked the targeting of a 150-year-old statute of King Leopold II in Brussels, Belgium for brutalities in Congo; and triggered demonstrations in Australia against the subjugation of its indigenous people.
The wave of anti-racism protests touched India as well. Mahatma Gandhi’s statute was vandalised by protesters outside the Indian embassy in Washington, DC, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to bring it up in a phone call with then US president Donald Trump.
In Minneapolis, a 12-member jury of six white people and six people of colour held Chauvin guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, which is punishable with up to 40 years in prison; third-degree murder, which is unintentional murder caused by the use of an eminently dangerous act, punishable with up to 25 years in jail; and secondary manslaughter, which is culpable negligence creating an unreasonable risk.
Sentencing is expected in about two months’ time, with Chauvin possibly staring at a lengthy jail term, according to legal experts.
The former police officer looked on with a frown, the lower half of his face covered by a mask, as judge Peter Cahill read out the verdict in a Minneapolis courtroom. After that, Chauvin was taken away in handcuffs in a rare case of a US police officer held guilty for a killing.
There have been only seven cases since 2005 in which police officers were found guilty of murder for on-duty shooting.
Around 1,000 fatal shootings by cops are reported every year, according to a widely cited study by Bowling Green State University.
Floyd’s family was relieved at the verdict. “They’re all saying the same thing: ‘We won’t be able to breathe until you’re able to breathe.’ Today, we are able to breathe again,” Philonise Floyd, one of his brothers, said in Minneapolis after the verdict. “Justice for George means freedom for all.”
Terrence Floyd, another brother, said, “I’m going to miss him, but now I know he’s in history. What a day to be a Floyd, man.”
The verdict came after three weeks of a trial aired live into Americans homes. The prosecution built its case around a video shot by a bystander – 17-year-old Darnella Frazier – that shows Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds. “Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said in his closing arguments.
Defence attorney Eric Nelson tried to divert the jury’s attention from the video towards Floyd’s underlying health conditions and drug use. “The state has really focused on the 9 minutes and 29 seconds, 9 minutes and 29 seconds, 9 minutes and 29 seconds. It’s not the proper analysis because the 9 minutes and 29 seconds ignores the previous 15 minutes and 59 seconds, completely disregards,” he said in his concluding arguments.