The jury listened to Monday’s closing arguments from prosecutor Steve Schleicher. He minced no words during the final moments of the trial against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“Believe your eyes,” he told the jury, who had to view cell phone video and police body camera footage numerous times during the trial.
“What you saw happen, happened.” Schleicher told the courthouse members and the worldwide television public the specifics needed in order to convict defendant Chauvin of last year’s Memorial Day murder of George Floyd. Some specifics, as determined by the Minnesota justice system included: A proven death; that the defendant caused that death: and that the defendant committed felony-level assault by intentionally inflicting bodily harm.
“Unreasonable force, pressing him to the ground, that’s what killed him,” Schleicher said, later referring to the pulmonologist who testified to the cause of death earlier in the trial. “You don’t have to be Dr. (Martin) Tobin to see this.”
The prosecutor noted that the police officer’s compression of his knee to the neck and back of Floyd for more than nine minutes was unreasonable, causing asphyxia. Additionally, the fact that Chauvin seemed indifferent to Floyd’s plight, as evidenced by body camera audio and video footage, showed he had a disregard for life.
Even when his fellow officer suggested they roll Floyd onto his side to recover, Chauvin refused to comply. When it was evident that Floyd had passed out, Chauvin did not make any effort to use CPR.
“Officers are required to administer CPR,” Schleicher said. “He knew better, he just didn’t do better. He had the knowledge and had the tools.”
Schleicher also rebuked defense witnesses who claimed death could have been caused by a cardiac event, as Floyd had heart issues; that death could have been brought on by carbon monoxide poisoning, as his body lied near an automobile; or that there may have been a drug overdose.
All those questions were disproved by Schleicher and the experts he called to testify.
“Not enough oxygen could get to the lungs and that is what killed George Floyd,” he said, citing Chauvin’s tactic of restraint was not used by trained, reasonable officers. “It’s not procedure, it’s not use of force policy, it’s not the rules.”
The prosecutor insisted that death wasn’t caused by Floyd’s heart being too big, but it was caused because Chauvin’s heart was too small.
After less than 11 hours of deliberation, the jury found Chauvin guilty on all three counts: Second degree intentional murder; third degree murder; and second degree manslaughter. Sentencing will take place in eight weeks.
“I’m feeling tears of joy,” Floyd’s brother Rodney said after the verdict. “So emotional. This right here is for everyone who’s been in this situation. For everybody. Everybody.”
Other speakers also noted that there have been many Black men and women in similar situations—abused by the authorities originally put in place to protect and serve. But this case had facts, video, medical experts and police witnesses for the prosecution—all which proved compelling. The jury held Chauvin accountable for what he did.
Many speakers noted that the nation’s African-American community had been through 400-plus years of oppression and still may have a long way to go, but the trial signaled a moment of transition. Although this trial was a micro situation in Minneapolis, it had macro implications throughout the nation, in that it, in essence, bore the country’s reckoning with systemic racism.
Following the verdict, there seemed to be a mixture of feelings, including relief, exhaustion and grief moving through the crowd outside the courtroom. But before the verdict was issued, there was much tension and nail biting. There was no surety in the outcome.
“It shouldn’t have been this hard,” Washington Post Columnist Eugene Robinson said. “We should have been able to have confidence.”
“Today a jury in Minneapolis did the right thing,” Former President Barack Obama wrote in his Facebook comment. “True justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently every day.”
Indeed, the funeral of another shooting victim, Daunte Wright was held near the same location, just two days after the Chauvin trial ended.
“The war and the fight is not over,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who led a prayer with the Floyd family following the verdict. He noted that President Joe Biden had visited with the Floyd family last year and agreed with Floyd’s daughter, who said her father would change the world.
“Let that be his legacy,” Biden said later in his speech addressing the trial. “‘I can’t breathe’ — don’t let those words die with him.
My hope and prayer that we live up to the legacy.” Others said the same.
“This was one specific case, but it was a beginning,” former Obama policing task force member Cedric Alexander agreed. “It’s up to us to keep our foot on the gas.”
Keith Ellison, Minnesota attorney general who pursued the case, felt the same.
“I would not call today’s verdict justice, but it is accountability,” he said. “George Floyd mattered. His death shocked the conscience of the country and the whole world. He mattered because he was a human being.”
A thought that was repeated locally by Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, who issued this statement:
“Today’s verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial is a victory for justice, a victory for accountability, and a victory for common sense.
But, despite today’s outcome, our hearts remain heavy for the loved ones of George Floyd who have lost a father, a brother, and a friend.
Though his life was senselessly cut short, Mr. Floyd’s legacy lives on through our collective work and advocacy to reimagine policing across this country. So, while today’s verdict will not bring George Floyd back, my hope is that his family will know that he has forever changed this nation for the better.”
The Community Coalition issued the following statement: “This is a step towards justice; this is not justice. George Floyd deserved to watch his children and grandchildren grow up…. Today’s small taste of justice is far from the cup we are due. We are sending love to the family and friends of George Floyd and Black families nationwide who’ve lost loved ones at the hands of the police. Onward to liberation.”