After weeks of witness testimony and ten hours of jury deliberations, Derek Chauvin has been convicted on all charges of unintentional homicide in the death of George Floyd. The sacked Minneapolis police officer was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the trial that ended on Tuesday.
Last May, footage of George Floyd’s death went viral, prompting protests and riots around the United States that lasted through the summer months. The footage had shown Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes following a scuffle in which Floyd had resisted arrest. Floyd had been accused of trying to pay with counterfeit notes at a store in Minneapolis.
Chauvin’s lawyers argued that there was reasonable doubt as to whether Chauvin’s actions directly lead to the death of Floyd. They cited other factors that may have caused George Floyd’s death, including blocked arteries and heart damage due to ongoing drug use, and a lethal dosage of drugs present in Floyd’s system at the time of his death.
The defence maintained that Chauvin acted within reason in his arrest of George Floyd, and in line with Minneapolis Police policies. The prosecution, on the other hand, argued that Derek Chauvin had acted with “cruelty and indifference,” causing Floyd’s death.
As the trial was underway, concerns were raised over a politically charged atmosphere that could taint the jury and the ultimate outcome of the trial. Much of this concern centred on comments made by Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who was filmed inciting protesters, saying,
We’ve got to stay in the street and we have got to demand justice… We’re looking for a guilty verdict…
I hope that we’re going to get a verdict that say[s] ‘guilty, guilty, guilty’. And if we don’t, we cannot go away… As far as I’m concerned, it’s first degree murder…
We got to stay on the street. We’ve got to get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational, we’ve got to make sure they know we mean business.
Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the trial, rebuked Maxine Waters for her prejudiced comments, chiding,
I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function.
President Joe Biden also made the unprecedented decision to comment on the trial, though his comments came after the jury had been sequestered. “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict,” he opined. “I think it’s overwhelming, in my view.” Biden also revealed that he had called the Floyd family to comfort them as the jury deliberated.
The Chauvin trial took place on a backdrop of political violence that followed Floyd’s death last summer. In Minneapolis alone, 1,300 buildings were damaged and 100 destroyed. Over recent days, buildings were boarded up across the city; thousands of National Guard troops were deployed, and activists maintained a presence outside the courtroom for the duration of the trial.
Reactions to Chauvin’s guilty verdict have revealed a deeply divided vision of justice in America. Vice-President Kamala Harris tweeted:
Today’s verdict brings us a step closer to making equal justice under law a reality. But the verdict will not heal pain that has existed for generations. It will not take away the pain felt by the Floyd family. That’s why we must recommit to fight for equal justice.
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) April 21, 2021
House Speaker Nanci Pelosi offered something of a prayer to George Floyd in remarks she made before the media. Looking skyward, Pelosi orated,
“Thank you George Floyd for sacrificing your life for justice… Because of you and because of thousands, millions of people around the world who came out for justice, your name will always be synonymous with justice.”
Speaker Pelosi: "Thank you George Floyd for sacrificing your life for justice … Because of you and because of thousands, millions of people around the world who came out for justice, your name will always be synonymous with justice."pic.twitter.com/JfapSsKdtX
— The Recount (@therecount) April 20, 2021
Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who represents the district where Floyd’s death occurred, wrote,
This feels different for our community, justice feels new and long overdue.
Rejoice, my beloved community. Grateful to @AGEllison, jurors, and everyone who made this possible.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) April 20, 2021
Others maintained that justice in this case was never possible because of how George Floyd’s death had been politicised. Media host Ben Shapiro tweeted,
Regardless of the verdict, the fact that the entire country knows that cities will burn if Chauvin isn't convicted is a deep indictment of the state of the country.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) April 20, 2021
Fox News host Greg Gutfield, though positive about the verdict, shared a similar perspective on the threat of violence surrounding the trial. He said,
“I’m glad that he was found guilty on all charges, even if he might not be guilty of all charges. I am glad that he is guilty of all charges because I want a verdict that keeps this country from going up in flames.”
Interviewing Candace Owens, Fox News host Tucker Carlson lamented that in today’s America, “you have to consider a murder case through the lens of politics.” Questioned Carlson, “When you get to that point, haven’t you already given up civilisation?” Owens replied,
That’s correct, and what we’re really seeing is mob justice… This was not a trial about George Floyd or Derek Chauvin, this was a trial about whether the media was powerful enough to create a simulation and decide upon a narrative absent any facts… This was not a fair trial. No person can say this was a fair trial.
Candace Owens: "This was not a fair trial. No person can say this was a fair trial." pic.twitter.com/kDvu14OVFK
— The Columbia Bugle 🇺🇸 (@ColumbiaBugle) April 21, 2021
Newsweek’s opinion editor Josh Hammer provided an insightful analysis on Twitter:
We as a society have to recover individualized guilt and innocence norms. No, Brett Kavanaugh was not on (de facto) trial for all the collective sins of white men. No, Derek Chauvin was not on (real) trial for all the collective sins of cops.
Collectivized guilt is un-American.
— Josh Hammer (@josh_hammer) April 20, 2021
The Western legal system was founded on concepts such as blind justice, personal responsibility, and the presumption of innocence. Indeed, civilisation itself has traditionally been measured by our willingness to choose the pursuit of objective truth over passionate instincts like mob justice, collective guilt or the unilateral decrees of powerful elites.
Commentary from across the political spectrum indicates that, more than simply determining Chauvin’s guilt or innocence, the George Floyd murder trial represents a dispute over the ongoing viability of the Western liberal order. This is one of the fundamental inquisitions of Critical Race Theory, the emerging worldview that has gripped America in the fallout of Floyd’s death.
That Chauvin could be convicted of all charges and so many still maintain that “justice has not been done” is evidence that America’s legal system was on trial this month, not just Derek Chauvin.