Chauvin verdict announced after a year of anticipation
“Thank you. Please be seated,” said Judge Peter Cahill.
After what seemed like an eternity, the courtroom camera began to shift its view downward from the golden “Great Seal of the State of Minnesota”, citizens of Minneapolis held their breaths as the Chauvin verdict of Wednesday, April 20 was announced. And around the country, all eyes were fixed on what would happen next:
“We find the defendant, Derek Chauvin, guilty…”
Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin’s sentencing is set for June 25, 2021, at 1:30 pm.
He is currently awaiting sentencing 25 miles east of Minneapolis in Minnesota Correctional Facility in Oak Park Heights. His first charge has a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Due to Chauvin’s past clean record, his sentence would have only been 12 ½ to 15 years.
However, Judge Cahill backed the most aggravating factors in the Chauvin trial, meaning his sentence could actually be a much longer 30 years. The trial for the three other former officers involved, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, has been delayed until March 2022.
Additionally, according to Hennepin County Judge Regina M. Chu, ex-officer Kimberly Potter, responsible for the death of Daunte Wright, is set to be on trial on Dec 6.
According to Brad Colbert, professor at Joe Harmon School of Law at Hamline University, officers in the United States kill about 1000 people per year. This trend has been consistent for the past 20 years. Therefore in the past 20 years, 20,000 people have been killed by police officers in the United States. An incredibly small percentage of those officers are charged with crimes.
“What [citizens] should know is how unusual it is for a police officer to be prosecuted criminally for homicide,” said Colbert, “…as an example, in Minnesota, about 2000 officers have killed 200 people since 2000. But only in the last five years have officers ever been charged with homicide as a result of them killing a civilian.”
Colbert continued, “So that’s to me, the biggest story and that’s the takeaway. Police officers have been killing citizens for decades, hundreds of years, but they’re just starting to be charged with crimes as a result of this. That to me is a gigantic takeaway from this process. Just the fact that Chauvin was charged with the crime is historical.”
The Chauvin trial was the first trial in Minnesota state history to allow a courtroom camera. Not only did community members watch the trial, but citizens from all over the world were able to live stream the event in real-time. The camera seemed to be essential, not only for the well-being of Minneapolis and St. Paul but also due to COVID restrictions in the courtroom. Limited numbers of people allowed in the courtroom required the media to relocate to a media center across the street.
Hennepin County courthouse, as seen in videos, was heavily gated. Witnesses and family members were, of course, permitted in the room, but the court only allowed one reporter in the courtroom. These assigned reporters were able to take notes and pass them along to all other members of the media.
“It was really critical to have that one reporter in the courtroom,” said Gia Vang, Kare 11 TV reporter. “They were able to tell us when a certain event happened and how the jury reacted. So they had access to really important details that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
When it was announced that a verdict would be released on April 20, the city of Minneapolis froze. Families sat glued to their television screens. Curfews were set, sporting events were postponed, and even some schools canceled classes in preparation for the potential backlash of citizens following the verdict. Was the city going up in flames again?
“After the trial, I thought it was obvious who presented the better argument and so although I was happy when Derek Chauvin was convicted, I wasn’t ecstatic,” said senior Nora Thomey, leader of the Diversity interns. “I knew that it was important that a police officer had been charged and convicted for his actions because that occurrence is few and far between, but I also knew that the outcome fixed only the tip of the iceberg. I was honestly annoyed with people who thought justice had been served because racism is still deeply woven into this country and so this is a step forward, but there’s so much more to do…So, the verdict was a bit of encouragement that our justice system and such have the potential to do good, but it was an even bigger encouragement to continue the momentum against racial injustice because our country has definitely not been fixed after one trial.”
Amidst the pandemic of COVID-19 and the pandemic of racial injustice, Chauvin’s convictions gave community members hope for once in a very long time.
“I think justice means different things for different people,” said Vang. “And I don’t want to be the one to say that this is justice, because I think that belongs to George Floyd’s family and the people that loved him and knew him, and I am going to say what they said. There is accountability now, but I think justice is having him alive and back.”
Colbert and Vang, along with many others in the country, hope that the Chauvin trial goes down in history not as an anomaly, but as the first of many cases in which Police Officers are held accountable for their actions.
Minneapolis was the epicenter of the focus on social justice and cultural change. While by no means complete, the verdict represented a bit of closure for the Floyd family and for what was a tumultuous year for Minneapolis and millions around the world.