That the guilty verdict handed down to Derek Chauvin, ex-cop of the Minneapolis police, in the murder of George Floyd should lead to a collective sigh of relief is reflective of what is wrong with the US justice system.
Chauvin was convicted April 20 on all three charges in the death of George Floyd nearly a year ago.
Floyd was pinned down by Chauvin with his knee on the victim’s neck for nine and a half minutes strangling him to death.
Despite pleas by Floyd as well as onlookers, Chauvin did not let go until he had the poor man’s life squeezed out of him.
It led to weeks of protests and revived the Black Lives Matter movement that became a global phenomenon.
Prior to the 12-member jury delivering the guilty verdict, the situation was very tense, especially in Minneapolis with authorities calling for calm.
The Chauvin trial had assumed such high profile that both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the country calling the verdict a “giant step forward in the march towards justice in America.”
Biden said he had talked to Floyd’s daughter and told her, “daddy did change the world.”
Floyd family attorney Ben Crump spoke at a news conference after the verdict saying, “We frame this moment for all of us, not just for George Floyd. This is a victory for those who champion humanity over inhumanity, those who champion justice over injustice, those who champion morals over immorality. America, let’s lean into this moment.”
Officials in Minnesota including Governor Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey all expressed relief at the verdict.
Governor Walz said the “verdict is an important step forward for justice,” but there is still work left to do.
He admitted that the only way the state will change is “through systemic reform.”
Attorney General Keith Ellison was more forthright.
He said he would “not call today’s verdict justice,” but did say that it is “accountability.”
Even former President Barack Obama, himself of African-American descent, said “the jury did the right thing,” adding “we cannot rest.”
Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, waited for the verdict in the courtroom with his head bowed and hands clasped.
When the guilty verdict was pronounced, he choked back tears.
Later he said his work fighting for justice had only just begun.
The maximum sentence for second-degree unintentional murder is imprisonment of not more than 40 years.
The maximum sentence for third-degree murder is imprisonment of not more than 25 years.
The maximum sentence for second-degree manslaughter is 10 years and/or $20,000.
Whether Chauvin will serve each sentence separately or concurrently will be known in eight weeks’ time when the judge hands down the sentence.
For now, the jury has prevented another crisis in America’s long and tortuous history of violence against people of colour.