ST. PAUL — While the streets of Minneapolis were filled with cheers and celebration surrounding the news of former police officer Derek Chauvin's guilty verdict for the death of George Floyd, lawmakers and activists said they couldn't back down in their calls for further reform.
Presiding Judge Peter Cahill read the jury's verdict at about 4:05 p.m. CT on Tuesday, April 20. The jury found Chauvin guilty on all three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
It has been just under 11 months since Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. Bystander and body camera video footage showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes while Floyd cried out that he couldn't breathe until he stopped responding.
Surrounded by his legal team, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison — who led the state's prosecution team against Chauvin — told reporters after the verdict Tuesday that "we cannot call (the verdict) justice, because justice implies true restoration."
"But it is accountability, which is the first step toward justice," Ellison said. "Now the cause of justice is in your hands, and when I say 'your hands,' I mean the people of the United States."
He went on to list some of the names of Black Americans infamously killed by police officers in the past three decades, and said, "This has to end."
"We need true justice," Ellison said. "That’s not one case. That is a social transformation that says that nobody’s beneath the law, and no one is above it. This verdict reminds us that we must make enduring, systemic, societal change."
Florida-based civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Floyd's family in its civil case against the city of Minneapolis, called Chauvin's conviction "painfully earned justice" for the Floyd family, as well as Minneapolis. At a news conference alongside Floyd's family, he called for the jury's decision to "be the precedent" when it comes to cases of police killings.
"Let this be the precedent where we overcome systemic racism and oppression and that we are a better people and that we will leave our children a better world, a better world for us all," he said.
Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, at Tuesday's news conference, compared his brother's death to that of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago whose brutal lynching and open-casket funeral in 1955 is credited with sparking the 20th Century's Civil Rights Movement. Philonise Floyd called Till "the first George Floyd."
The difference today, he said, is that "you have the cameras all around the world to see and show what happened to my brother."
Calls for reform
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday said in a written statement that Chauvin's guilty verdict "is an important step forward for justice in Minnesota" but "our work has only begun.”
Floyd's death in 2020 sparked national and international calls for racial justice and reforms to public safety and policing. The Minnesota Legislature in July 2020 passed a slate of police reform bills, but activists and lawmakers of color said at the time that the bill package did not go far enough.
“Too many Black people have lost — and continue to lose — their lives at the hands of law enforcement in our state," Walz said. "Our communities of color cannot go on like this. Our police officers cannot go on like this. Our state simply cannot go on like this. And the only way it will change is through systemic reform.”
Peaceful protesters need to be heard. We can’t do that when there’s the level of violence and destruction we saw last May. We need to create space for voices to be heard and demands for change to be met. pic.twitter.com/vYvcOJ0v8D— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) April 19, 2021
In the midst of Chauvin's trial, on April 11, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, was shot dead during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, just outside of Minneapolis. Activists and several Democratic lawmakers said that Wright's death showed that last year's legislative reforms did not go far enough.
The Minnesota Legislature's People of Color Indigenous (POCI) Caucus said in a written statement that Tuesday's verdict "not only condemns the actions of that man, but our society and public safety system as a whole."
“Justice cannot stop at punishment, it must continue in everything we do to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again," the caucus said. "This verdict has planted the seed of justice in tenuous soil polluted by years of oppression and injustice. It is now up to us, our white colleagues, and all Minnesotans who value human life to nurture this seed so that it may grow into true justice."
Over 1,100 miles away from St. Paul, Minnesota's senior U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar called on her congressional colleagues in Washington, D.C., to act, as well, saying it's "long past time" for the U.S. Senate to move forward with police and criminal justice reform.
“(T)oday, as we reflect on the life of George Floyd, and appreciate this step toward accountability and the work of the prosecutors, judge and jury, we acknowledge our long and winding march toward justice," Klobuchar said. "We renew our commitment towards securing his legacy — not just as the man whose death shined a light on the undeniable stain of racism on our country — but as the man whose memory inspires us to build a more equitable system.”
In Minnesota's divided state Legislature, lawmakers remain politically divided on what further police reforms to pass into law. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, has said he won't promise that Republicans and Democrats can come together to pass further reforms this legislative session.
"Every American is entitled to justice through the legal system," Gazelka said Tuesday afternoon. "Though no verdict will bring George Floyd back, I pray the Floyd family today is in some way comforted knowing the judicial system has provided justice."
Democrats leading the state House, on the other hand, are pushing for further reforms to be passed as soon as possible, threatening to hold up constitutionally required budget negotiations until the Legislature can come to an agreement. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said Tuesday that "the work continues."
“I hope this guilty verdict brings George Floyd’s family, friends, and loved ones a small measure of closure, but it will not bring Mr. Floyd back nor will it prevent the next killing of an unarmed, nonviolent Black Minnesotan at the hands of law enforcement,” Winkler said. “Only when we achieve meaningful change to policing and our criminal justice system, led by Black Minnesotans closest to this unimaginable pain and trauma, will we truly be able to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ in Minnesota."
Biden speaks to Floyd family
According to White House pool reporters, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris watched the announcement of the verdict from the White House's private dining room, and spoke over the phone with Walz, as well as Philonise Floyd. In an address to the country following the verdict's announcement, Biden said the verdict “can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America."
"No one should be above the law and today’s verdict sends that message," Biden said. "But it’s not enough. We can't stop here. In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and must do more to ensure that tragedies like this will never happen or occur again."
He called on local and state governments, as well as the federal government, to "step up" by "acknowledging and confronting, head-on, systemic racism."
Convicting Dereck Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd is a moment of accountability, and also a moment to recommit ourselves to the movement for racial justice his tragic murder sparked.
Convicting Dereck Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd is a moment of accountability, and also a moment to recommit ourselves to the movement for racial justice his tragic murder sparked.— Senator Tina Smith (@SenTinaSmith) April 20, 2021
(1/3) For the past few weeks, 12 of our fellow Minnesotans diligently listened to the evidence presented by the defense and prosecution, and today, they have reached their verdict. I thank the jurors for their service.
(1/3) For the past few weeks, 12 of our fellow Minnesotans diligently listened to the evidence presented by the defense and prosecution, and today, they have reached their verdict. I thank the jurors for their service.— Pete Stauber (@RepPeteStauber) April 20, 2021
We are dedicated to the safety and security of our residents and all our visitors; ensuring your right to peacefully make your voice heard is protected; and protecting our free press to tell the unvarnished truth of what is taking place in our city. That commitment will continue.
We are dedicated to the safety and security of our residents and all our visitors; ensuring your right to peacefully make your voice heard is protected; and protecting our free press to tell the unvarnished truth of what is taking place in our city. That commitment will continue.— Mayor Jacob Frey (@MayorFrey) April 19, 2021
Gathered with colleagues and community as we await the outcome of the trial. As elected officials we are limited in commenting on the trial. I stand with the Floyd family and all those calling for change. No matter the verdict, justice is a safety system that protects us all.
Gathered with colleagues and community as we await the outcome of the trial. As elected officials we are limited in commenting on the trial. I stand with the Floyd family and all those calling for change. No matter the verdict, justice is a safety system that protects us all.— Lisa Bender (@lisabendermpls) April 20, 2021