A jury in Minneapolis says Black lives matter

There could be no other verdict. Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. But what if the evidence had been any less shocking? Would justice still have prevailed?

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Protesters rally outside the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct on April 19, 2021, before the jury began deliberating in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd.

Protesters rally in Minneapolis on April 19 before a jury began deliberating in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin.

Morry Gash | AP Photos

Guilty on all counts.

There could be no other verdict, given the overwhelming evidence against Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd.

Yet, it was still a historic moment Tuesday when Judge Peter A. Cahill read the jury’s verdicts against Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer. The jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Those 12 jurors — a cross-section of America, with six whites, four African Americans and two people who identified as multiracial — refused to look away. They believed what their eyes saw in the damning video of Floyd’s murder, played over and over again in a Minneapolis courtroom as Chauvin’s trial unfolded over three weeks.

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How could they not convict? They saw the video, taken by a teenager with a cell phone, of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. They heard Floyd say “I can’t breathe” 27 times. They heard bystanders plead with Chauvin to get off Floyd.

Beyond the damning video, seen around the world since Floyd’s killing last Memorial Day, jurors saw something else that made this trial so historic: Cops themselves finally crossing the thin blue line to testify against one of their own.

Breaking the code of silence

It was a rare sight. When before in this country have police officers in any number broken with the unspoken “code of silence” to say that a fellow officer had used excessive force in killing a civilian?

Chauvin’s actions were just too appalling, too egregious. Good cops knew there was no way to wear the blue with honor and defend what Chauvin had done. Police officers across the country knew that the integrity of their profession, finally and unavoidably, was on the line.

“This is not an anti-police prosecution,” prosecutor Steven Schleicher said in his closing argument on Monday. “It’s a pro-police prosecution.”

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Chauvin’s old boss, was among those officers who testified that Chauvin’s actions violated his training and department policy, including his duty to render medical aid the moment Floyd began struggling to breathe.

“Once Mr. Floyd had stopped resisting and certainly once he was in distress and trying to verbalize that,” Arradondo testified, “that [kneeling] should have stopped.”

The hard question remains, sad to say, as to whether Chauvin would have been convicted had the evidence against him not been so shockingly transparent, pounded home by the disturbing video and dozens of witnesses, including unimpeachable law enforcement experts. Would anything less have sufficed, given the usual high hurdles in this country to convicting police officers for misconduct, misuse of force and sheer brutality?

We’d like to believe Tuesday’s verdicts were historic. That they mark a turning point. That they sent a message that justice can be served, even against police. But remember this: Chauvin’s conviction remains the exception, not the rule.

A sea change

In far too many similar cases, justice has proved elusive. Dozens of similar police killings of African Americans, as the New York Times recently documented, have rarely resulted in criminal charges, much less convictions.

America remains so very far from the sea change needed before we can be confident that policing is routinely fair and just, even in communities of color.

Part of that change will come with better police training, with a particular emphasis on de-escalation tactics and the proper use of force. Part of the change will come, as well, by confronting head-on a toxic culture in many police departments and police unions that stubbornly resists change and excuses abuses.

And part of the change will come, without a doubt, by finally confronting the racism inside and outside — definitely also outside — so many police departments.

Tuesday was a good day for America. No doubt.

Justice in the case of Derek Chauvin will not be complete — it will not have fully played out — until Judge Cahill hands down his sentence in eight weeks. But for now, George Floyd’s brother Philonise says he will sleep better. As will tens of millions of other Americans.

A jury in Minneapolis said their lives matter.

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