After three weeks of testimony and just 12 hours of deliberations, the jury of five men and seven women found Derek Chauvin guilty of all charges — second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — in the death last May of the 46-year-old Floyd. The trial was one of the most closely watched in recent memory and featured testimony from 45 witnesses, including medical experts and use-of-force professionals, but the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case was the video taken by a bystander that detailed Floyd’s final moments as he lay pressed under Mr. Chauvin’s knee, gasping to breathe and begging for help.
“This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first. . . . It’s exactly what you saw with your eyes,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the jury in his summation. “Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw.” That video, taken by a 17-year-old bystander and posted to social media, prompted a summer of protests about a system of law enforcement larded with social injustice that too often views people of color as threats, not as people to be served and protected.
There have been other instances captured on video of Black people killed by police — Eric Garner telling police “I can’t breathe” and Philando Castile shot during a traffic stop — but either authorities chose not to bring charges against the officers or a jury refused to convict the police. Until the verdict was read Tuesday afternoon, many were braced for a repeat.
What seems to have helped make a difference in the trial of Mr. Chauvin was the rare condemnation of his actions by other police, including the chief of the Minneapolis police department. Instead of covering for Mr. Chauvin, as so often happens, a parade of witnesses from law enforcement testified that Mr. Chauvin violated policy and betrayed his training and his badge. This was not the case of an officer having to make a split-second, life or death decision, and so the jury rightly refused to give Mr. Chauvin the benefit of doubt.
Also powerful was the testimony of witnesses — witnesses who had watched in horror, who had pleaded with Mr. Chauvin to lift up his knee, who in their helplessness became victims as well. They showed courage in seeking to help Floyd last summer, and they showed courage in bearing witness this spring. Their example should inspire the nation to work so that police murders like this one do not happen again. That scourge can only be scrubbed out through reform within departments and a bolder reimagining of public safety for every community.