The 12 jurors — Black, White and mixed race; men and women; old and young — reflected the mosaic of citizens who had marched in the streets over the summer, here and around the world, roused from their complacency by the sheer callousness of a crime they had borne witness to from the quiet intimacy of their homes. The rage of millions and the heartbreak of a family were given a cooling balm.
“History is here. This is monumental,” said George Floyd’s brother Terrence. “We got the verdict we wanted. We said, ‘God, we need justice. We need it now.’ And He answered.”
Floyd’s murder invaded our lives and haunted our dreams. It came at people from their televisions, their telephones and their laptops. The heartlessness of it couldn’t be ignored or shrugged off. What they saw wasn’t grainy security footage or jittery police body-camera video — although plenty of both served as evidence in the three-week trial. The bystander video of Floyd’s death was in vivid, clear color. The dying man’s every agonizing cry echoed in the audio. It was cruelty writ large.
“George Floyd mattered,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. “He was loved by his family and his friends. His death shocked the hearts of our community, our country, the whole world. He was loved by his family and friends. But that isn’t why he mattered. He mattered because he was a human being. And there is no way we can turn away from that reality.”
Because the jurors believed what they saw, which is what the prosecutors had implored them to do, they also acknowledged a truth that Black and Brown Americans have seen up close for a very long time: That there’s good reason to fear the police. That for all of the fine officers who risk their lives in service to their communities, there are also those who abuse their power and our trust and take lives — and all too often, the dead are people of color.
“No verdict can bring George Perry Floyd back to us,” said prosecutor Jerry Blackwell after the verdict was read. “But this verdict does give a message to his family that he was somebody, that his life mattered. That all of our lives matter.”
“I also hope that this verdict,” Blackwell said, “will help us further along the road toward a better humanity.”
The verdict doesn’t correct the injustices that people have experienced in the past. It doesn’t breathe life into the dead. But it honors them, just a little.
Emmett Till “was the first George Floyd,” said Philonise Floyd, another brother of George. “Times, they’re getting harder every day. Ten miles away from here, Mr. Wright, Daunte Wright, he should still be here. We have to always understand that we have to march. We will have to do this for life. We have to protest because it seems like this is a never-ending cycle.”
“I’m not just fighting for George anymore,” he added.“I’m fighting for everybody around this world.”
The verdict reminds us that the promise of the words “and justice for all” has not been forgotten, not completely. It’s ever-present; it just requires many hands to pull it into the light: the passersby who stopped and cared, the police officers who refused to keep silent, a jury that could distinguish between a victim and a threat.
On at least one day, a police officer was not above the law. A grieving family was delivered the modest solace of justice. And a deeply divided country was reminded that we still have the capacity to see one another clearly.
Hennepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill read the verdict in court Tuesday afternoon. He did so briskly and without emotion. Cahill announced that Chauvin was guilty on all three counts: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. As he read the jury’s decision, Chauvin stood behind the defense table. He was crisply dressed in a gray suit and white shirt. His mouth was hidden behind a pale blue medical mask, but one could see his brow furrow as he listened to the judge. His eyes darted rapidly from one side to the other, and one eyebrow arched upward in a flicker of emotion.
He listened as Cahill asked each juror if they agreed with the verdict, and 12 voices each said firmly and without hesitation, “Yes.” The judge thanked them for their service, for their “heavy-duty” service. Then Cahill revoked Chauvin’s bail, and a uniformed law enforcement officer grasped the former police officer’s wrists and placed them in handcuffs. He led him away. And Chauvin was fully compliant.