MINNEAPOLIS — Nervous crowds awaiting a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin erupted in jubilation on Tuesday after a jury found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd during an arrest last May.
In George Floyd Square, the traffic intersection named after the 46-year-old Black man who died with his neck pinned to the street under Chauvin’s knee, throngs of people screamed, cheered and applauded at the news of the guilty verdict.
The square has become a place of pilgrimage and protest since Floyd‘s death made him the face of a national reckoning with racial injustice and police brutality.
Floyd‘s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” were recalled in street demonstrations against his killing that convulsed the United States and the world last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I can breathe,” said Lynea Bellfield, a 43-year-old Black woman who joined a festive celebration in the square. “It feels like the beginning of something special. I had to bring my grandsons to see it.”
A brass band played in a nearby church parking lot in the sunshine and people snacked on baked goods donated by well-wishers, smiled and took pictures. Chants of “George Floyd” went up every so often.
A 12-member jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty of all three charges against him – second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter – after hearing three weeks of testimony and deliberating for just over 10 hours. Chauvin was quickly led away from the courtroom in handcuffs after the verdict was read.
The trial outcome brought cheering people to the streets and motorists honking their horns in a number of major U.S. cities, including Washington and New York City, according to social media.
In Brooklyn, a crowd gathered outside Barclays Center to celebrate. Robert Bolden waved an American flag as he embraced Ingrid Noel, who wore camouflage. A child wearing a red mask rode on an adult’s shoulders, while others prayed.
The announcement also brought elation to crowds gathered outside the Hennepin County courthouse where the trial was held.
Tears rolled down the face of Chris Dixon, a 41-year-old Black Minneapolis resident, as he took the verdict in.
“I was hoping that we would get justice, and it looks like we did,” he said. “I’m just very proud of where I live right now.”
Many of those celebrating the verdict in Minneapolis and around the country said their joy was tempered, however, by the tragedy of Floyd‘s death and awareness that racial inequality remains deeply embedded in American society.
Protesters outside the courthouse called for a continued focus on the prosecution of another Minnesota police officer, Kimberly Potter, charged with manslaughter after shooting a young Black motorist, Daunte Wright, during a traffic stop on April 11 miles away in the suburb of Brooklyn Center.
“Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell,” protesters chanted. Some took over the main thoroughfare in front of the courthouse, blocking traffic.
“The change is coming, so watch out,” Floyd‘s girlfriend, Courtney Ross, told MSNBC.
Some of the early reaction was also somber in Floyd‘s hometown of Houston, where a childhood friend, Travis Cains, said it was crucial that Chauvin be sentenced to the full extent of the law.
“African Americans just want to be treated as humans. That’s all we’re asking for – is that too much?” Cains told Reuters. “We’re tired of all this police brutality that been going on for years, we’re tired of these public lynchings.”
Law enforcement and public safety officials in Minnesota and elsewhere had braced for the possibility of an outpouring of rage had the jury acquitted Chauvin or deadlocked in a mistrial.
Citing the “threat of civil unrest,” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on Monday had declared a preemptive state of emergency for the Minneapolis metropolitan area and requested security assistance from other states.
Many businesses in Chicago boarded up their windows in anticipation of possible disturbances. And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday signed an “anti-riot” bill into law, imposing tougher penalties for people found to have engaged in violent protests. He noted then his expectation of potential fallout from a Chauvin trial verdict. —Reporting by Nathan Layne and Jonathan Allen; Additonal reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif., and Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Sonya Hepinstall