The Irish Times view on the Derek Chauvin murder verdict
Outcome creates the possibility – and only that – of addressing systemic racial bias in the US’s police and judicial systems
Echoing the desperate dying words of his brother, Philonise Floyd held back tears to tell journalists after Tuesday’s verdict that “We are able to breathe again”. And the landmark conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, in the rarest of rebukes to an officer for killing a black man, has produced a collective sigh of relief across the US.
It creates the possibility – and only that – of addressing systemic racial bias in the police and judicial systems. A first tentative step on a long road. A failure to convict, on the other hand, would have sent the message of the impossibility of reform and almost certainly have ignited widespread civil disorder.
At the centre of the trial was an excruciating recording that showed Chauvin, kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds as the latter pleaded for his life and bystanders tried to intervene. Floyd repeated “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times.
The jury deliberated for 10 hours before pronouncing Chauvin guilty on all three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, absolving the policeman only of an overt intention to kill.
It was a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see
The conviction was hard won, racial justice campaigners have noted, and depended on vivid eyewitness testimony, including visual recording and the evidence of fellow police officers that the knee-hold had no part in their training or standards. Other prosecutions will find it a high evidential bar to reach. And even in the last days of the trial, despite the huge glare of media attention, two more black youths died at police hands, one in Minneapolis, another in Ohio. The problem of gung-ho policing and the impunity of officers is not going away.
That uphill battle to vindicate the #BlackLivesMatter movement was reflected in comments from President Biden who praised the verdict in a nationwide address but called it a “too rare” step to deliver “basic accountability” for black Americans. “It was a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see,” Biden said.
Hours before the jury came back Biden had taken the unusual step of weighing in, telling reporters that he was “praying” for the “right verdict”. Had the verdict gone the other way the president would almost certainly have faced political criticism for legitimising the inevitable disorder that would have followed.
Crucial in the next step in getting justice for Floyd must now be the passage by Congress of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which bans the use of chokeholds, restricts the use of deadly force, requires police officers to wear body cameras, and increases police accountability for violations of suspects’ constitutional rights.