THE death of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin was one of the most significant events of the century.
It set off the largest race demonstrations in history, with scenes of burning streets and Black Lives Matter banners being inescapable last summer.
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Chauvin knelt down on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds during an arrest on Memorial Day last yearCredit: AP
George Floyd’s murder set off the largest race demonstrations in historyCredit: Refer to Caption
And we can now officially put a name to that fateful incident that set off this chain of events: Murder.
I’ve watched every day of the trial and found it absolutely gripping.
Chauvin’s lawyer did at times make a convincing argument that it wasn’t the knee on the neck that killed Floyd.
After all, Floyd was found with a high level of drugs in his system — said by medical experts to have been enough to cause an overdose. He also had an enlarged heart due to other medical conditions.
But ultimately, the only thing you need to know is that Derek Chauvin continued to kneel on the neck of a man who had already stopped breathing, for three minutes and 27 seconds. That is surely monstrous, and I’m glad he will pay for his crime.
The state’s lawyer put it perfectly — George Floyd didn’t die because his heart was too big, but because Derek Chauvin’s heart was too small.
And that’s the crux of this historic moment: that the police force in America is too heavy- handed, too fatal, and that too many mistakes are made that result in death.
This issue is much bigger than Derek Chauvin, though his conviction is a small victory for police accountability.
Cars were set on fire during outrage over the murder of George FloydCredit: AP
Crowds celebrate as Derek Chauvin’s found guilty of murdering George FloydCredit: Reuters
Accountability because a 17-year-old bystander’s decision to record Derek Chauvin’s actions and show them to the world helped bring about justice.
Accountability because, for the first time in Minnesota history, the entire trial was televised.
Accountability because, in an exceptionally rare move, Chauvin’s own colleagues — not least his own police chief — testified against him.
If this conviction sends just one message to police officers, it is that the world is well and truly watching. The clock seems to be ticking on bad cops.
But I also can’t shake the feeling of uneasiness about this moment.
Firstly, I have a bad feeling that the conviction will be thrown out on appeal and declared to be a mistrial. The jury were not sequestered (meaning they were not kept away from outside influences such as media coverage) during the trial.
This means Chauvin’s lawyers can argue that the jury were tainted.
I’m also uneasy because there’s a risk of America patting itself on the back and saying, “Job done”.
Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughterCredit: AFP
Chauvin is led away in handcuffs after he was found guilty of the murder of George FloydCredit: Reuters
That would be a mistake. The American problem of the police use of force is huge. Officers shoot and kill around 1,000 people a year. And in 2020 alone, 243 of those were black.
This is compared to 26 black deaths from any police contact in England and Wales over the past SIXTEEN years.
America has a mountain to climb when it comes to police brutality broadly, not least because evidence shows ethnic minority police officers can kill just as many black suspects as white officers.
So, while I am pleased at the trial’s outcome, I wouldn’t get my hopes up for major change just yet.
Yes, Chauvin is behind bars (for now), but I’ll believe real change in US policing when I see it.
Chauvin’s murder charge is one small step in restoring some faith in the criminal justice system for many.
Whether it will be the giant leap for police conduct and accountability that is so needed is another question entirely.