- 20 Apr 21
All over the world, people had anticipated the verdict with a mixture of anxiety and terror. Then the jury in Minneapolis spoke
Derek Chauvin has been found guilty of the second degree murder of George Floyd.
It was a dramatic day in Minneapolis and across the USA, as people awaited the decision of the jury, on all three charges of murder and manslaughter that had been levelled against the police officer Derek Chauvin, who had knelt on the neck of George Floyd – an Afro-American citizen of the United States of America.
During the day, in an unprecedented move, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, confirmed that he had met and talked to the family of George Floyd. He said – in advance of the jury delivering its verdict – that he prayed that the court would arrive at the correct verdict and deliver justice. There was only one interpretation that could be put on what the President said. And he added that he would not say this, if the jury were not already sequestered – where, in theory at least, they were unreachable.
Yesterday, there had been some dismay in legal circles, when the Democratic member of the House of Representatives, Maxine Waters, urged people to fight for justice if Derek Chauvin were found 'Not Guilty' – forcing an observation from the judge hearing the case that the intervention might provide grounds for an appeal.
Whether either of these comments will offer a sliver of undeserved hope to Derek Chauvin’s legal team, that the decision might be overturned, remains to be seen. However, in the short term, the reality is that there was complete unanimity among the jurors that the police officer who – ignoring the cry from the victim that he couldn’t breathe – continued to place the full force of his knee against George Floyd’s neck for over 9 minutes, and in the process killed him stone dead, should be held fully accountable.
All over the world, a huge sigh of relief could be felt. In particular, that relief was palpable in Minneapolis – where the murder of George Floyd took place – and in Washington, which has been the scene in recent times of extraordinary scenes of protest and violence, mostly from right-wing extremists.
People had waited in the streets in both cities – as they did elsewhere across the US – in a mood that might accurately have been described as incendiary. On the street where the murder took place, crowds cheered loudly and applauded as the ‘Guilty’ verdicts were read out by the judge, Peter A. Cahill. And the same response occurred in different ways across the world.
The murder of George Floyd had given a renewed sense of outrage – and fresh momentum – to the Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout the intervening months, there were protests across the United States of America, that often tipped over into outright violence, as the police confronted marchers. And all over Europe too, it became a rallying point for activists and protestors, battling for equal treatment for people of colour under the law, and indeed more widely, throughout Europe..
There were protests all across the UK, with the statue of the slaver Edward Colston being toppled in Bristol, in what was regarded as a seismic moment in the campaign in England in particular. Ireland, too, joined in the struggle, with serious protests erupting in Dublin and in cities across the country.
Had Derek Chauvin not been found guilty of the murder of George Floyd then it is almost certain that righteous mayhem would have erupted – and justifiably so. The evidence against the guilty police officer had been overwhelming. Now, however, an immediate, fresh and potentially violent and destructive eruption has been avoided.
That does not mean that the powder keg has been completely defused. Far from it. The relatives of Daunte Wright – who was killed last week, in the city of Brooklyn Centre, Minnesota – also want justice.
And besides – however welcome the decision of the jury today was and is – there can be no doubt whatsoever that the cards remain hugely stacked against African-Americans and people of colour in the US, and indeed elsewhere. They are far more likely to live in poverty. They are far more likely to be stopped by police. They are far more likely to be charged. They are far more likely to end up in jail.
A huge proportion suffer all of the disadvantages of a life of poverty – early school-leaving, lack of opportunity, institutionalisation, discrimination, arrest and detention, and unemployment – to a vastly greater extent than their fellow, ‘white' citizens of America. They are, in truth, the most extremely hurt victims, of the monstrous imbalances that afflict US society on every level.
All of that will need to be addressed, as a matter of urgency before the currently prevalent feelings of disillusion and anger among the Black community can be cleansed. But that is the pre-requisite for American society to successfully move on.
“There really are no words to adequately describe the appalling, sickening and brutal nature of what happened to George Floyd,” Hot Press editor Niall Stokes said. “The scene in which his life was literally squeezed out of him, while he was handcuffed and calling for his mother, will forever stand as a toxic monument to just how shockingly corrupt, prejudiced and violent the American police force has far too often been in dealing with African American citizens.
"Had any other verdict been delivered tonight, America would have been plunged into an unprecedented period of protest and turmoil, with the potential for further serious losses of life. That this has been avoided is a huge relief. But, in truth, the process of achieving justice and equality is only starting in the US. There is still a long road to travel. That journey must start now – in the hope that the wrongs of the past can be redressed, and the United States of America can finally find peace through reconciliation and justice."
Clearly, a huge task lies ahead, for President Joe Biden and his team. But at least today, the challenge with which they are faced was not further complicated by a verdict that would have flown in the face of what the whole world saw – and what the whole world knew.
Which was, and is, that Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Now, there are other police officers, who aided and abetted Derek Chauvin, onto whom the spotlight falls. Let's hope that the wheels of justice continue to turn without fear or favour.