All around Iowa, the United States and the world, people responded to Tuesday’s conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter and shared their reactions to the guilty verdict.
The death of George Floyd
On May 25, 2020, Chauvin, a white man, killed 46-year-old George Floyd, a Black man, by kneeling on his neck for nearly 10 minutes while responding to a call about Floyd using a counterfeit bill at Minneapolis convenience store Cup Foods.
Shortly after the incident, the Minneapolis Police Department released a statement saying Floyd died as the result of a “medical incident during police interaction.”
The “medical incident” in question was then labeled as “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression” by Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker. Baker ruled Floyd’s death a homicide.
Floyd’s death was caught on camera by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who witnessed the entire scene along with her 9-year-old cousin.
Prior to his death, Floyd could be seen and heard calling out “I can’t breathe” as well as calling for his mother multiple times.
On May 26, Chauvin, along with the other three officers at the scene, was fired. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter May 29. A second-degree murder charge was added June 3.
On April 20, after 10 hours of deliberation, the jury in Chauvin’s trial reached a verdict. Chauvin was found guilty of all three charges — unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Crowds in Minneapolis erupted into cheers when the verdict was read.
“A stain on our nation’s soul”
After the ruling was announced, Floyd’s brother drew Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison into a large embrace.
Ellison thanked the community for allowing the prosecution proper time to gather evidence for the case.
“That long, painstaking work culminated today,” Ellison said. “I would not call today’s verdict justice, however, because justice requires true restoration, but it is accountability, which is the first step toward justice.”
Ellison also encouraged the public to help pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act.
Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman said the Minnesota Legislature must pass a number of bills to make policing fairer and safer for all, especially for Black people.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Floyd family, tweeted his reaction.
“GUILTY! Painfully earned justice has finally arrived for George Floyd’s family. This verdict is a turning point in history and sends a clear message on the need for accountability of law enforcement. Justice for Black America is justice for all of America!”
GUILTY! Painfully earned justice has finally arrived for George Floyd’s family. This verdict is a turning point in history and sends a clear message on the need for accountability of law enforcement. Justice for Black America is justice for all of America!— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) April 20, 2021
Crump, along with the Floyd family, also gave a press conference.
"Let's make sure that this moment will be documented for our children yet and born, as they continue on the journey to justice knowing that the blood of George Floyd will give them a trail to find a way to a better America, a more just America," he said at the press conference.
Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, also spoke at the press conference.
"I finally have the opportunity to hopefully get some sleep," he said. "A lot of days that I prayed, and I hoped, and I was speaking everything into existence. I said, 'I have faith that he will be convicted.’ [...] I'm fighting for everybody around this world. Today, we're able to breathe again."
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said he respects the process of the trial and decision of the jury.
“I would like to thank the men and women of the Minneapolis Police Department as well as their families. The past year has been difficult and challenging yet they have continued to show up and serve our community with the respect and dignity they deserve,” Arradondo’s statement read.
“We recognize that our community is hurting, and hearts are heavy with many emotions,” the statement read. “However, I have hope. The community that I was born and raised in and that we serve is resilient and together, we can find our moment to begin to heal. To the Floyd family, may peace and comfort guide you along the way.”
Arradondo continued to call for calm, safety and peace in the coming days and said he supports people’s “lawful exercise of their First Amendment rights” but asked for peace and lawfulness.
“Now is the time to use our humanity to lift each other up and not tear our city down,” he said.
Statement From Chief Arradondo (April 20, 2021) pic.twitter.com/GO6PLEYfmv— Minneapolis Police (@MinneapolisPD) April 21, 2021
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz released a statement immediately following the announcement.
"Today's verdict is an important step forward for justice in Minnesota," Walz said in the statement. "The trial is over, but our work has only begun [...] accountability in the courtroom is only the first step. No verdict can bring George back, and my heart is with his family as they continue to grieve his loss. Minnesota mourns with you, and we promise the pursuit of justice for George does not end today.”
Walz called for systematic police reform to prevent this from happening again.
"Too many Black people have lost — and continue to lose — their lives at the hands of law enforcement in our state," he said. "Our communities of color cannot go on like this. Our police officers cannot go on like this. Our state simply cannot go on like this. And the only way it will change is through systematic reform."
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke about the verdict.
Before the announcement, while the jury was sequestered, Biden publicly said he was hoping for the “right verdict” and that in his opinion, the evidence for the right verdict was “overwhelming.” Biden did not explicitly say whether the right verdict was guilty or not guilty.
"It was a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see [systemic racism]," Biden said following the announcement of the verdict. Biden also said the verdict is a step forward and outcomes of police trials like this one are rare.
“No one should be above the law, and today's verdict sends that message,” Biden said. “It is not enough, we can’t stop here. In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood of a tragedy like this will ever happen and occur again.”
“Last summer, together with Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Karen Bass, I introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” Harris said. “This bill would hold law enforcement accountable and help build trust between law enforcement and our communities. This bill is part of George Floyd’s legacy. The president and I will continue to urge the Senate to pass this legislation, not as a panacea for every problem but as a start. This work is long overdue.”
Harris also called out America’s history of systematic racism.
“Black Americans and Black men in particular have been treated throughout the course of our history as less than human. Black men are fathers and brothers and sons and uncles and grandfathers and friends and neighbors,” she said. “Their lives must be valued in our education system, in our health care system, in our housing system, in our economic system, in our criminal justice system, in our nation. Full stop.”
“When will this end?”
After the verdict was announced, Des Moines Black Lives Matter (BLM) organizer Matè Muhammad said he didn’t feel compelled to respond because the system as a whole is not capable of dealing out justice and can’t affirm Black lives.
“To think that we could rely on a racist justice system to deliver justice on a singular case-by-case basis I think is naive, my response came 10 months ago.”
Iowa State was one of many institutions to release a letter to the Iowa State community following the guilty verdict. The Office of the President's statement addressed the difficulties and pain members of the Black community experience.
“The weeks and months that preceded today’s verdict have been difficult and traumatic for many in our community, as headlines mounted of other Black lives lost, incidents of racially charged violence and raw emotions, along with scenes of families and communities in anguish. Around the world, George Floyd’s death has reverberated, causing many people and communities to stop and examine this tragic moment more fully and seek pathways to healing and reform,” the letter stated.
Muhammad said Iowa State is one of many institutions that continues to make profit by utilizing from prison labor to make furniture.
“Throughout time, liberal institutions have played a double-edged sword,” Muhammad said. “With one hand they write these proclamations of moral justice but in material, physical, political and economic, refuse to cut their ties to the source of injustice. It is this constant striving that never completes itself conveniently.”
Jalesha Johnson, another Des Moines BLM organizer, said her reaction to the verdict was unease, anger and anxiousness.
"I was scared the police might retaliate. I was angry at how many non-Black people were going to use this verdict as a reason to stop fighting for the liberation of Black folks. And I was anxious for the pressure this might put on Black people to 'get over' anti-Blackness, police brutality, state-stationed murder and white supremacist violence," Johnson said.
She added that she believes the issue to be addressed is the police force itself.
"I believe that law enforcement should be abolished and I believe we must protect all the people involved in such a high-profile case from racists who may harm them," she said. "People like George Floyd’s daughter, Gianna Floyd, the young girl who recorded his passing, Darnella Frazier, and the Black man, Donald Williams, who fearlessly testified during his trial."
Somerle Rhiner, a junior in sociology, said they were at work when their bosses told them Chauvin was guilty on all three counts.
“I cried and I cried and I cried,” Rhiner said. “I can’t really describe it because part of me was happy because we are going to have some accountability but at the same time it was hard for me because it’s going to happen tomorrow or next month.”
When the Minneapolis police precinct was burned down during protests, Muhammad said that wasn’t about morality or justice, it was proof that people are done with the institution.
“The system stands on top of every one of these murders, it is supported by every one of these murders, they affirm our current status quo every time it happens,” Muhammad said. “Our struggle is not to gain accountability, our struggle is to make it stop.”
Rhiner said the stereotype of “Iowa nice” is false, and often cases of police brutality in the state are overlooked or talked about in a negative light.
“I have many friends who are protesters who have been brutally beaten and wrongfully arrested,” Rhiner said. “Honestly I feel like Iowa isn’t doing any better. ”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds recently introduced a “Back the Blue” bill in the Iowa Legislature, which would increase protections for police and higher penalties for protester-related crimes. Muhammad said this bill gives police more legal leeway to infringe on individuals' rights.
Mack Shelley, chairman of the political science department at Iowa State, said where you stand depends on where they sit, some view police as there to preserve the current order and others think they are preserving an unjust status quo.
“It is very clearly a lot of the same people who said they wanted to be protected by BLM, were perfectly fine with people attacking the Capitol building in D.C.,” Shelley said. “So you are not going to get consistency in that regard, it is pretty much all driven by power politics.”
On the national level, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed the House of Representatives in early March. The legislation calls for a ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants in federal drug cases while ending qualified immunity for law enforcement. The bill would reallocate funding to community-based policing and bar racial and religious profiling.
Shelley said there have been efforts to advance police reform at the national level but they usually run into stiff opposition from Conservative operants from both political parties.
“I think the general idea here is if you make peaceful change impossible you make violent reaction inevitable,” Shelley said.
Breanna Diaz, junior in child, adult and family services, said she was filled with anger and sadness when the verdict was read.
“With the Chauvin trial verdict came a large wave of emotions. I wanted to feel relieved that for once we finally saw an outcome that we justifiably deserved, yet instead I was filled with anger and sadness,” she said.
“I am mad that everyone is calling this 'justice' when in reality it isn't. True justice will only come with systematic changes. I am mad that George Floyd is no longer alive. I am mad that countless others like Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, etc. never received their 'justice.' I am mad that a trial was even needed in order to find Chauvin guilty when the entire world saw what he had done. I am mad that he was charged with 'second-degree UNINTENTIONAL murder,'” Diaz said. “What a massive slap in the face.”
Diaz said her heart aches for the Black community.
“We see that these horrible acts are so closely tied together within the community. We saw that the families of George Floyd and Daunte Wright had connections to each other. It was a prime example of how these acts destroy entire communities. These things do not just impact the individuals involved,” she said.
“I am also sad that as we have been watching the trial unfold that the lives of other innocent people have been taken. Adam Toledo and Ma'Khia [Bryant] were children and their lives were taken by the hands of dirty, disgusting cops,” Diaz said.
“I, and many others, expected to feel at peace with a guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial,” she said. “Instead, I feel anger and sadness. Why do the lives of innocent men, women and children have to be taken for people to care and realize there is a systemic issue that needs to be fixed? When will this end?”
Kenyatta Shamburger, director of Iowa State’s office of multicultural student affairs, said he had a number of reactions following the reading of the guilty verdict.
“During the reading, I realized I was literally holding my breath. Then I exhaled. I was grateful for a moment,” he said. “For me, the jury’s verdict affirmed a demonstration of accountability, a key marker in the advancement towards justice. George Floyd’s murder was another spark in the long and overdue reckoning on race in our country. His murder pricked the collective conscience of the world.”
Shamburger also said that despite his gratefulness, the moment was neither jubilant nor celebratory.
“For me, a Black man in America, I will celebrate when the convictions of racist murderers are so normal that no one celebrates. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently and poignantly stated in his August 28, 1963, speech, '…we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.' We must continue to speak the names of others who have died because of police brutality and other racist actions. We need to pursue justice for those with hashtags and the victims with no hashtags,” he said.
“This case highlights an urgent need for change,” he said. “As we continue on this journey toward justice, there must be reform in America’s police system, reform in the criminal justice system and systematic racism must be dismantled. This work begins in education.”
Both Des Moines and Ames BLM issued statements in response to the verdict.
“Today’s verdict marks one victory in the war against police brutality. However, true victory will only come from abolishment. Only then will justice be a reality,” the statement issued by Ames BLM read.
Des Moines BLM's statement said the Des Moines Liberation Movements started in response to Floyd’s death and also mentioned the idea of “justice.”
“We ask you, what is ‘justice’ to a dead man? What does a jury’s declaration of ‘guilty’ mean to a grave? Police accountability is rare, but police violence is not. We are not victorious yet,” the statement read.
“We, like our ancestors, believe in abolition. Our hope is that one day prisons and police will vanish from this earth. We believe that justice will be served when no more blood from Black people’s bodies is spilled on the street,” it said. “One murderous cop’s conviction isn’t enough to ensure it will never happen again.”
“We believe George Floyd’s legacy to be more than another human put into prison, but to put an end to policing. To abolish a system that perpetuates the enslavement and slaughter of Black folks. To end the pigs’ ability to murder, manipulative abuse, traumatize and terrorize our community. To eradicate all systems that uphold white supremacy,” the statement read.
The statement also included a list of demands that included calling for the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis and the firing of Des Moines City Manager Scott Sanders and Police Chief Dana Wingert.
We ask you, what is “justice” to a dead man? What does a jury’s declaration of “guilty” mean to a grave? Police accountability is rare, but police violence is not. We are not victorious yet. pic.twitter.com/0uKEfuvLN2— Des Moines Black Liberation Movement (@DesMoinesBLM) April 20, 2021
Ames Mayor John Haila issued a statement Wednesday.
“It is my sincerest hope that the guilty verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin brings some level of comfort to the family and friends of George Floyd, our community, and nation,” the statement said.
“We must learn from our collective past, so that we as a community and country can move forward with determination to create a better future,” Haila said. “Ames citizens have shown the ability to challenge injustice, recognize and confront inequities, and strive to build a community where everyone is welcome. We are committed to continuing that thoughtful, deliberate journey.”
Chauvin will be sentenced in eight weeks and will be housed in a high-security cell away from the general population. Judge Peter Cahill will set a sentencing date, which he said will be in approximately eight weeks.
He is facing up 40 years for the second-degree murder charge, 25 years for the third-degree murder charge and 10 years for the second-degree manslaughter charge. The sentences will likely be served consecutively, since they are for the same crime.
Cahill will be deciding on if there were any aggravating factors. If none are found, the judge could sentence Chauvin to as little as 10 years, eight months or as much as 15 years on the murder charges based on Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines.
If Cahill determines there were aggravating factors, such as the fact that a 9-year-old child witnessed the murder, 45-year-old Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison.
The other three officers at the scene, Tou Thao, Thomas Kiernan Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, have been charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin. A Minnesota Court of Appeals hearing on May 20 will see the state attorney general’s office attempting to add a third-degree murder charge.
Thao, Lane and Kueng are set to stand trial in August.