Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, was convicted on all counts on Tuesday. Chauvin faced charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter in Floyd’s death, which helped set off mass protests around the world. Sentencing will occur in eight weeks.
During the trial, the two sides argued over what exactly caused Floyd’s death and whether Chauvin was justified in his use of force. The prosecution called to the stand bystanders who relayed the horror of witnessing Floyd’s death and at times broke down in tears. Paramedics testified that they could find no signs of life upon their arrival. One of Chauvin’s fellow officers decried his actions as excessive. And prosecutors repeatedly played the surveillance video, which gave the public a disturbing and uninterrupted view of Floyd’s desperate pleas and Chauvin’s indifference. The prosecutors urged the jurors to “trust their eyes.”
The defense, meanwhile, argued that Floyd had died not from a lack of oxygen but from a cardiac arrhythmia, possibly caused by drug use, heart disease, or even carbon monoxide from the exhaust of the police car. The defense also argued that the prone position that Floyd was forced into—one that has become increasingly criticized as dangerous—was not an excessive use of force. The prosecution countered both of these claims with experts of its own.
Chauvin declined to testify in his own defense.
On May 25, Floyd stopped to buy cigarettes from a convenience store and returned to his car. An employee at that store believed that the $20 bill he used was counterfeit and called the police. Chauvin and three other members of the Minneapolis Police Department arrived and accosted Floyd, claiming in a statement that they believed he was “under the influence.” Floyd opened his car door, and one of the officers yelled at Floyd and forcefully pulled him out of the car. The officers handcuffed Floyd and marched him to their police car. Floyd objected and tried to exit from the other side of the car, saying he wanted to lie on the ground. The officers then pinned Floyd to the ground, and Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck.
Floyd told the officers, repeatedly, that he could not breathe. Bystanders began shouting at the officers, and after six minutes, one of the officers checked Floyd’s pulse. He couldn’t find it; two minutes later, paramedics arrived. Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck after Floyd lost consciousness, and for more than a minute after paramedics arrived. Floyd was pronounced dead that evening.
All four of the officers involved were fired the next day. The other officers, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao, were also charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
On April 11, as Chauvin’s trial was underway, yet another Black man in the community was killed by the police—this time, after a traffic stop and by an officer who claimed she mixed up a gun and a Taser. The shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis, led to unrest and days of protests. Some of Floyd’s family members joined Wright’s relatives at their first public press conference to call for consequences for the police officer. “Police officers are killing us,” said Floyd’s brother Philonese. “We’re here and we will fight for justice for this family, just like we’re fighting for our brother.”
To understand more about how police training perpetuates a culture of fear and, sometimes, violence, listen to this recent episode of What Next.