May 25, 2020. The 46-year-old George Floyd bought a pack of cigarettes at a store in South Minneapolis. A shop assistant believed his $20 bill was fake and called the police after Floyd refused to give the cigarettes back. Once the police arrived, struggle ensued when they handcuffed Floyd and tried to put him in their squad car. They wrestled him to the ground and pinned him under their weight. Derek Chauvin, one of the officers, pressed his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, as the suspect and several bystanders pleaded for his life.
While he was being restrained by the officer, George Floyd said more than 20 times that he could not breathe, pleading for his mother and begging “please”. When the ambulance arrived, Floyd was motionless and was pronounced dead about an hour later.
April 20, 2021. “Today, we are able to breathe again,” said Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder in George Floyd’s death. Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree muder, and second-degree manslaughter by the jury. The second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, and the third-degree murder with a maximum sentence of 25 years. The second-degree manslaughter is also punishable by up to a 10-year sentence. While Chauvin was handcuffed before he was led out of the courtroom, we currently don’t know his exact sentence for another eight weeks. However, he faces up to 75 years in prison, meaning that this verdict could send the former Minneapolis police officer to prison for the rest of his life.
The 12-member jury took less than a day to reach their verdict, which followed a highly-charged, three-week trial that left the entire state of Minneapolis on edge. After both sides were presented with closing arguments on Monday April 19th, the jury was isolated in order to deliberate on a unanimous verdict. Throughout the trial, the jury remained unseen and anonymous, but its demographic skewed toward more white and more female.
During Derek Chauvin’s trial, there were a total of 45 witnesses heard by the jury as well as several hours of video footage. Eyewitnesses were the ones that provided the most powerful testimony. Many broke into tears as graphic footages of the incident were presented. As bystanders, they described their feelings as “helpless” as they saw events unfold. Close members of Floyd’s family including his girlfriend of three years and his younger brother both took the stand to share details about Floyd’s background. Chauvin himself did not testify, invoking his right to not incriminate himself with his responses.
Nearly a year later, justice for George Floyd’s death is served. We remember this day as the first step towards justice. However, while this conviction brought some accountability for this terrible crime, it does not solve the deeper problems that exist within this system and in our society.