Commentators weigh in on the guilty verdict against ex-Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd last May.
Issac Bailey: I’m relieved, but still in pain
I don’t begrudge others who burst into celebration at the sound of “guilty” guilty” “guilty” in the case of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who slowly murdered George Floyd in broad daylight. I feel more relieved than anything else. Relieved that for a moment at least there was a bit of justice handed to the Floyd family, who had suffered too much. Relieved that the image of yet another police officer getting away with murder did not come to pass. Relieved that my worst fears did not materialize.
But I’m not in a celebratory mood – because it took overwhelming evidence to convict a police officer, evidence so clear even his former boss and colleagues testified against him. There won’t always be that much evidence. The video won’t be so clear and gut-wrenching, even though the harm being perpetrated might be just as devastating next time. I haven’t forgotten about Daunte Wright or that no cop has been charged with killing Breonna Taylor or that bad cops are still protected by qualified immunity and a blue wall that remains all too silent.
Hearing “guilty” allowed me to exhale. It did not rid me of my anguish, my pain.
Issac Bailey is a journalist based in South Carolina and the Batten Professor for Communication Studies at Davidson College. His latest book is “Why Didn’t We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland.”
Cariol Horne: The stark message of this guilty verdict
We didn’t need a jury to tell us what we saw was wrong or criminal.
Someone like Derek Chauvin should never bear the right to wear a badge. What we witnessed when he murdered George Floyd less than a year ago sent waves across of the country. It’s chilling that this type of evil could exist in a blue uniform.
The truth is that there are many others like Derek Chauvin. Fifteen years ago, I was fired from my job after I stopped a fellow officer from choking a handcuffed Black man during an arrest. But my decision to intervene is one I stand by in spite of the price I paid.
Officers across this country must take action in situations where they are not only witnessing the civil liberties of civilians being violated, but especially when those whom we swore to protect and serve can be killed by our hands.
This country was divided long before Floyd’s murder, but this guilty verdict sends a message that we the people can mobilize to create change.
Last year the city council in my home city of Buffalo, NY, passed “Cariol’s Law,” which says police officers have a duty to intervene when they see a colleague using excessive force.
Police officers’ jobs depend on our community believing and trusting us to both protect and serve. And each officer who has the opportunity to wear the badge, and chooses not to intervene, should face the same fate as Chauvin.
Cariol Horne is a former police officer, who was fired for intervening during the chokehold of a handcuffed, unarmed Black man.
Roxanne Jones: Mothers and fathers of Black children still have sleepless nights ahead
Derek Chauvin is guilty on all three counts—second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. His bail revoked and remanded to jail.
As the verdict was read it felt like Black Americans and millions of others around the world could finally exhale, for a moment anyway. There is relief and disbelief that at last justice won out over racism and hate.
But our relief is momentary; the cost to get to this day was soul-crushing.
I have a son and I fear for his life every day. It has been heart-wrenching for me, and many other parents of Black children, to watch George Floyd’s loved ones crisscross the nation doing interviews, speeches, anything they could to show Floyd to the world as a decent man who was deeply loved. A man deserving of justice and grace, who did not deserve to be slowly tortured and murdered on a Minneapolis street.
Floyd’s family and countless others have had to protest and plead for justice and mercy in this case. That is how we got here. It felt so good to see his family finally smiling after the verdict was read. Now they can grieve in peace.
Floyd was a man, not a monster with superhuman strength, an oft-used notion about Black men that Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson called on to try to justify his client’s actions.
“There’s no superhuman strength because there’s no such thing as a superhuman. Those exist in comic books…just a man, lying on the pavement being pressed upon, desperately crying out. A grown man, crying out for his mother. A human being,” Floyd’s attorney Steve Schleicher told the jury in his closing argument.
This time, the jury believed the video, they believed what their eyes saw. They believed Schleicher. And for that I am relieved. But until the criminal justice system is overhauled and the systemic racism is rooted out, my fears will not be stilled.
There will be many more years of tears, prayers and protests in America before Black mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers will be able to sleep peacefully.
Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.”
Raul Reyes: There is hope this time
There is hope. There is relief. There is consolation – all because George Floyd received the justice he deserved. Nothing less than Derek Chauvin being found guilty on all three counts would have been acceptable. Legal arguments aside, no reasonable person could have watched the video of Floyd’s death and not have held Chauvin fully accountable for such a depraved killing.
As welcome as this outcome may be, there is still much more work to be done before our country lives up to its ideal that all Americans are equal before the law. Systemic racism still exists, and these verdicts are only one step in the right direction.
Chauvin is likely going to prison, yet there are untold numbers of instances of police brutality where there were no onlookers present, or there is no video evidence. Studies have repeatedly shown that Black and Latinos are more likely than White to experience violence and death in police encounters.
Although majorities of Americans expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement’s struggle for racial justice in 2020, according to Pew Research, police practices have been slow to change. Just this year, Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latino boy, was shot by Chicago police, while Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was killed by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
But this time, our justice system worked. The American people who marched in the streets during a pandemic should be proud that their activism had an impact. The prosecutors in the Chauvin trail should be commended for their outstanding, comprehensive presentations. The jurors should feel satisfied knowing they did the right thing while under tremendous pressure. And although nothing can bring Floyd back to his devastated family and community, at least today the world knows that his life mattered.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and a member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.
Van Jones: We can fight, and we can win
This is what accountability looks like. All we want is for the police to obey the law. When they break the law, they should be put in handcuffs just like anybody else.
I’ve seen so many kids who have done so much less than Derek Chauvin walk out of court in handcuffs. I’ve seen kids do 20 to 30 years on snitch evidence – just one kid testifying against another kid. So many people from our communities are sitting in prison, while police – with the rare exception of Chauvin – get away with murder over and over again.
Where is Congress? They need to act now. Those chokeholds are still legal in some cases, according to federal standards. That needs to change. There’s no registry for convicted cops like Chauvin. That needs to change. When you have legislators like Democratic Rep. Karen Bass and Republican Sen. Tim Scott fighting for reform, there’s no reason anything like this should never happen again.
This end of this trial took too long to get to, after too much marching and too many tears. Even with all this evidence, people woke up this morning afraid to hope. Even with all the incredible work on the ground from groups like Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block, Take Action Minnesota, African Career, Education, and Resource (ACER), Movement Voter Project, Minnesota Youth Collective, Centro de Trabajadores en Lucha , UNIDOS MN, CAIR Minnesota, Reviving Sisterhood MN, Faith in Minnesota, ISAIAH, and many more – people were still afraid to hope. That means we need real change.
The message here: we must get more involved. I think about that teenage girl who brought out her cell phone to record Chauvin’s heinous act. All those community members who begged, pleaded and tried to talk Chauvin down. The Minnesota governor, Tim Walz, who stepped in to appoint State Attorney General Keith Ellison, who made sure this case was prosecuted the right way.
This is the beginning of something. Sometimes when we fight we lose, but let this be proof – we can fight, and we can win.
Van Jones is a CNN host and founder of Dream Corps.
Sherrilyn Ifill: Now is the time to pass laws that enhance police accountability
The flood of emotion and relief that so many Black people felt when Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts in George Floyd’s murder speaks volumes about how often the justice system has failed us. I hope that those who sacrificed immensely and exhibited tremendous courage to arrive at this point – especially Mr. Floyd’s family and the brave witnesses who documented and testified about Mr. Floyd’s murder — are at least brought some solace by this rightful verdict.
We cannot pretend that this one conviction addresses the depth of the systemic injustice we still face, especially in light of the recent killings of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo. True reform involves completely re-imagining what public safety looks like in this country and prioritizing investment in robust community resources over police forces. It includes passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which enhances law enforcement transparency and accountability. And it involves withholding federal funds from police departments if they do not adhere to the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s anti-discrimination requirements.
The verdict is a rightful conviction in an immeasurably broken system. We need to upend our public safety paradigm to truly eradicate the root causes of police violence that Black people endure every day. More Black lives should not have to be lost in order for us to achieve veritable change and justice.
Sherrilyn Ifill is the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc. (LDF).
SE Cupp: One conversation with our kids that has a just ending
There are so many heartbreaking realities of modern life in America that we routinely have to explain to our children, but today, with a Minnesota jury’s guilty verdicts, we can feel tremendous relief that we will not have to explain why justice was not done in the case of George Floyd. However, a guilty verdict on all three counts against Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes despite his compliance, is not a long-term solution to the problem of police brutality. Nor does it solve systemic racism. Not even close.
It will still be the challenge of our lifetimes to confront the enduring injustice of needless deaths like Floyd’s, Sandra Bland’s, Eric Garner’s, and on and on. But the verdicts are nevertheless an important step toward healing, and hopefully, hearing – hearing from a generation of communities that have waited, and waited, and waited for justice. Here’s to one conversation with our kids that has a just, if not a happy ending. Hopefully it’s just the start of another.
S.E. Cupp is a CNN political commentator
Elliot Williams: To some extent, we all were on trial over the past few weeks
Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder. And that is a good thing.
Because if it wasn’t possible to convict this officer, for this plainly criminal conduct, at this time, then in practice, it would have been hard to see how any officer could ever be convicted for criminal conduct committed on duty.
An overwhelming amount of evidence confirmed Chauvin’s guilt. Most striking about the trial was how little was ever in doubt. There was no debate over the fact that on May 25, 2020, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine and a half minutes; that fact is now burned into the public consciousness via graphic video evidence that I am certain I, among others, will never forget. It was not up for debate that Floyd died that day, following the encounter.
All the evidence, therefore, simply confirmed what we all saw on the video. Other officers’ body cameras, other bystander videos, and surveillance footage captured the same scene. Bystanders corroborated what was shown on the videos. A parade of experts, each more credentialed than the next, gave compelling testimony on the bounds of permissible force by police officers and on the likely cause of Floyd’s death. For heaven’s sake, the Chief of the Minneapolis Police Department testified against Chauvin. This fact alone was remarkable.
The defense, as was their right and duty to their client, proffered alternate explanations for what happened. Many were, to make an understatement, a stretch.
Still, to some extent, we all were on trial over the past few weeks. Jurors, drawn from a public often taught to trust law enforcement reflexively, tend to resolve doubts in favor of the police. Moreover, the law often makes it difficult to convict police for on-duty conduct. Layer on the racism – whether implicit or explicit – that pervades society, and a trial of a white cop for murdering a black man in plain view on a public street could easily have come out the other way.
Perhaps, then, the Chauvin trial was a test case for society; it was a test of what happens when overwhelming evidence is set against a frustrating legal and cultural reality.
One day in the future, there will almost certainly be another unlawful killing of an unarmed Black man by a police officer who is violating the law. Odds are there won’t be a nearly 10-minute cellphone video of it happening.
Elliot Williams is a CNN legal analyst. He is a former deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department and a principal at The Raben Group, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm. Follow him on Twitter @elliotcwilliams.
Cole Brown: True justice requires that George Floyd be alive
The jury returned a verdict that reflects what any reasonable person already knew: Derek Chauvin is a murderer. The system executed its most basic duty, punishing an obviously guilty man. Thank God.
After the emotional upheaval that attended this trial, the only emotion I have left for this moment is relief. I don’t feel excitement, satisfaction, or hope because I know that this verdict doesn’t reflect the truest definition of justice.
True justice prevents an American from dying over possession of a counterfeit bill. True justice forbids Derek Chauvin from kneeling on an American’s neck and requires his colleagues to step in to halt the abuse. True justice requires that George Floyd live.
The Minneapolis community will now seek to heal after a traumatic ride that began nearly one year ago, despite the recent death of Daunte Wright salting its still open wounds.
Individual community members – Philonise Floyd, girlfriend Courtney Ross, Darnella Frazier, the then-17-year-old who recorded the indispensable cellphone video – will likely deal with the haunting shadow of this event for years to come.
Like many Americans, I will attempt the complicated balance of staying attuned to the fight for reform, without losing my sanity. One thing I know for certain: I will never watch that video again.
Cole Brown is a political commentator and author of the book “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World.”
Jennifer Rodgers: Chauvin has avenues for appeal but his chances of success are slim
The jury has convicted Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd. For now, justice has been done, but the defendant will likely appeal – and there are some issues that we can be certain will be front and center when he does.
First, as jury selection was underway, the City of Minneapolis announced a $27 million settlement with George Floyd’s family over his death. Defense counsel moved for a delay of the trial and a change of venue to a different county, arguing that this information would prejudice the jury. Judge Cahill denied these requests, instead questioning the jurors about their knowledge of the settlement and whether they could remain impartial having learned that information, ultimately dismissing two jurors who indicated they could not do so.
Second, Cahill denied the defense’s request to sequester the jury at the outset of the trial, opting instead to sequester them only when deliberations began. In the middle of the trial, the shooting death of Daunte Wright at the hands of a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota led to many days of protests and unrest just 10 miles from the courtroom where the Chauvin trial was happening. Cahill also decided not to sequester jurors at that time, or even to question them about whether they had learned about the incident or what its impact on them might be.
Finally, recent comments by elected officials, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who called for protesters to stay on the streets and “get more confrontational” in the event of an acquittal, prompted a mistrial motion by the defense on the day of closing arguments. The denial of this motion, without asking the jury whether they were aware of or would be influenced by the remarks, will be yet another appeal issue.
My sense is that none of these issues has a strong likelihood of success, given the strict instructions these jurors have been under to avoid all news coverage and the legal presumption that jurors follow their instructions. But they certainly will provide fodder for the defendant in making his arguments, and food for thought for the appellate court when considering a case that presents unique challenges in terms of media coverage and possible social pressures on the jurors.
Jennifer Rodgers is a former federal prosecutor, Adjunct Professor of Clinical Law at NYU School of Law, Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School, and a CNN legal analyst.
William Barber: The jury has done its job – now we must do ours
Tuesday’s guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin is an important public act of accountability. Before the entire nation, fellow officers took the stand in this trial and testified that their colleague did not protect and serve, but abused power and murdered George Floyd. We all saw and heard that.
Officers of the law are the only people to whom we give authority to come into our homes and take away our loved ones based on nothing but a piece of paper. They are the people we allow the power to prohibit our freedom of movement based on their own discretion. If we give them this power, we must also insist that they cannot abuse it without consequences. That is what this trial was about for all Americans.
We must meet this public act of justice and accountability with federal legislation that will hold officers of the law accountable in every state, and we must continue to work in every community to shift public investment from over-policing poor, Black and brown communities to ensuring restorative justice and equity for all people. The jury has done its job; now we must do ours.
The Rev. Dr. William Barber II is president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
Julian E. Zelizer: Justice was done. But more is needed.
With the Chauvin verdict, justice was achieved. Unlike so many cases that we have seen over the past few years—over the past few decades—a police officer was held accountable for causing the death of an African American. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is raising our national consciousness.
But this is only small step along the arc of the moral universe. Too many trials have not turned out this way, too much police harassment continues and too much of our system leaves African Americans living in fear of the very officials who are meant to protect them. It shouldn’t take a gruesome video like the one of George Floyd’s final minutes to generate responses acknowledging that #BlackLivesMatter.
Tuesday’s verdict needs to be followed up by wholesale reforms at the local, state and national levels. After the Kerner Commission released a report in 1968 blaming White racism, including police harassment, for growing unrest in American cities, the federal government failed to take appropriate action. In fact, political parties shifted to advocating a stance of purported law and order, which made the problems even worse.
Policing reform, whatever form that takes, cannot be dealt with later. This issue needs to be at the center of our agenda right now. The goal is not to have trials that hold police accountable after the fact but to have a criminal justice system remade in a way that finally dismantles the effects of institutional racism. Until then, there will not be full justice for George Floyd.
Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and author of the book, “Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.” Follow him on Twitter @julianzelizer.
Peniel Joseph: Guilty verdict shows progress – but also means more change
The guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial represents important progress in police accountability for the murder of Black people. But it does not represent the full measure of justice that millions protested for in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death last year. Justice for Black Americans requires an end to the premature deaths that have taken the lives of Philando Castile, George Floyd and Daunte Wright – Black men killed by police in Minnesota over the last several years. Justice means no more dead Breonna Taylors, Sandra Blands or Tamir Rices.
As the country waited for Tuesday’s verdict, the split screen nature of our racially divisive times was on full display in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas, which law enforcement turned into a fortress thanks to a heavy presence of the National Guard in anticipation of possible urban rebellion over a potential ‘not guilty’ verdict. America spends resources on the protection of property, but rarely devotes the same money, energy and passion to protecting Black lives and investing in critical areas that will allow them to thrive.
The Black Lives Matter movement has argued, since 2013, that America’s criminal justice system has been shaped by systemic racism, structural violence and inequality that harms Black families and robs their futures. This reality continues in our moment. The fact that it took what may be the largest social movement in American history to help force a measure of accountability does not mean it’s time for celebration.
This is a day to mourn the dead and take full stock of the dramatic political and moral transformation that will be necessary if we are ever to truly be able to guarantee Black citizenship and dignity.
Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan chair in ethics and political values and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of several books, most recently, “The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.”
Mark Osler: When the blue wall crumbled
With the murder conviction of Derek Chauvin, two very important things finally went right, and we ended up with a result that comported with what most Americans believe they saw in the street-side video of the killing of George Floyd.
One important feature of this trial was a jury (and panel they were drawn from) that was much younger and more diverse than we usually see here in Hennepin County. No one seems quite sure why that was, but we need to find out and replicate it. Here, as in so many other places, juries too often look less like a cross-section of the community and more like a retirement home in Idaho or Vermont.
Another key point about this trial concerns the crumbling of the so-called blue wall of silence. For too long, it has protected police misbehavior, rooted in the code of silence that often predominates among law enforcement. In this case, that silence did not prevail. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo – who fired Chauvin and testified against him – and other career police officers told the truth in the Chauvin trial, and were some of the more compelling witnesses. As with the jury, we need to find out how that happened and make sure that it happens again.
Mark Osler is the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas (MN), and a former federal prosecutor.