On Tuesday, a jury found former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder and two other charges related to the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after being knelt on for more than nine minutes.
The jury took 11 hours to reach their unanimous guilty verdicts, rendering justice to the distraught family of Floyd — and to million more Americans who have been victimised for too long by racism that seems systemic in policing in the US.
While this trial dealt only with the killing of the 46-year-old black man whose appeals of “I can’t breathe” went uncared for under Chauvin’s knee as the officer pressed on Floyd’s neck, slowly squeezing the life from his restrained victim.
For nine minutes, he subdued Floyd using a neck-choke hold that is prohibited as a restraining technique by police forces the world over. And during that time, as Floyd pleaded for his life, for air, for assistance, Chauvin continued to slowly suffocate him, ignoring onlookers who warned Floyd was in critical danger
The work of policing is often difficult, with officers placed in life-and-death situations that develop quickly and where public harm can escalate unless swift and decisive action is taken. But Chauvin’s act was no split-second decision.
For nine minutes, he subdued Floyd using a neck-choke hold that is prohibited as a restraining technique by police forces the world over. And during that time, as Floyd pleaded for his life, for air, for assistance, Chauvin continued to slowly suffocate him, ignoring onlookers who warned Floyd was in critical danger.
An onslaught of violence
The ramifications of Chauvin’s actions have been profound, sparking Black Lives Matter protests across America and Europe and turning a spotlight on decades of racist abuse and inequality by police forces.
Americans have been at this juncture before, and juries have not convicted when cases seemed watertight, and with video evidence. And yes, authorities were braced for an onslaught of violence just as with the infamous Rodney King verdict of three decades ago.
The verdict, however, delivered justice. US President Joe Biden called it “a giant step” toward justice in the US. Indeed it is. It must be viewed as the turning of a new page, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset race relations, a chance to begin the onerous task of reforming police forces in a nation where one third of the prison population are black and where your chances of being stopped by police when driving increase eightfold based on skin tone.
It will be weeks before Chauvin is sentenced, months before the appeals process to conclude, and years before he will ever see freedom again. Sadly, this has been decades in the making. No one should wait a minute more for equality.