Derek Chauvin’s conviction of murder and manslaughter is expected to be only the beginning as activists and George Floyd’s family promise to keep working for change in police departments in Minnesota and beyond. Chauvin’s trial also saw a number of police officers testifying against him.
MPR News reporters Brandt Williams and Jon Collins talk with In Front Of Our Eyes host Nina Moini to reflect on the week and what happens next.
On the parallels of George Floyd’s family and Daunte Wright’s family
Collins: I think this trial brought together a lot of people who have worked on issues of police accountability — and a lot of people who've been personally impacted by the police use of force, say their relative being killed by a police officer. So it makes sense that the Wright family and Floyd's family will come together and have a unified sort of message about this. And I think we saw that in some of these press conferences and some of the statements of his family and their attorneys, as well as the statements on the stand of George Floyd's brother.
Williams: On the day that I was in the courtroom during the trial testimony, Rodney Floyd was sitting in a courtroom, and there was still some of the bodycam video of the arrest being shown. And I kept trying to keep my eyes on Rodney as he kept looking down, he had a small yellow legal notepad in his lap that he would occasionally scribble notes on. I couldn't tell if he would be looking up at the screen at all. But, you know, he was obviously reacting, although subtly.
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During a break, I was in the hallway. And another reporter, we both approached him, just to see if he'd be willing to talk to us at some other point. And he was graceful, he was willing to say a few things. But as you can imagine, that's a very hard situation for any family member to be in. And, you know, especially his family who is living their grief in a very public way, for the whole world to see, and the way they handle this, I think, also kind of stood out. Their personality in their character kind of stood out, I think, as people undergoing a horrible thing in public, and being extremely graceful and calm.
Key moments of the Chauvin trial: Blackwell’s closing comments
Moini: One of the most striking things and I believe the last thing that the jury heard was from one of the prosecutors, Jerry Blackwell, who delivered the rebuttal and closing arguments in the trial. He said: “You heard testimony that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big.” And then he went on to say, “the truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin's heart was too small.” And I just found that to be a very striking last thing for jurors to hear.
A verdict turned in, a celebration begins
Collins: In Minneapolis, and Brandt probably saw this, too, I left the media center in downtown and the streets were already full of people. There were cars honking. There was music playing, people were setting up stereos as I was walking over to our Minneapolis bureau. People were unloading, grilling barbecues, a celebration, and there was a demonstration, you know, the people were down there and marched through downtown. And then other folks gathered at 38th and Chicago and they celebrated as well.
But there was not any unrest, and there was not any damage that I heard about or saw to any buildings. And no confrontation with police. Police were not visible.
The people that I talked to and then my colleagues talked to expressed a sense of relief. But again, we are in another waiting period because we have the other three officers who are charged in George Floyd’s killing about to go on trial in August. And then we also don't know what's going to happen with Daunte Wright and the former officer charged in his killing, so there's still a lot of uncertainty.
Embolden to be a witness
Williams: I was in downtown after the verdict were read and I did hear people chanting that they still had one more cop to prosecute and to convict — that is in the Daunte Wright shooting. And the sense that I've gotten after this case is that people do not want to let the Minneapolis Police Department off the hook. Activists are very adamant that Derek Chauvin is not just a bad apple, that he is a part of the root of the tree that has contributed to this, this the atmosphere in Minneapolis for generations. And that is something that I think perhaps after this conviction, people will be more emboldened to push back.
Darnella Frazier, who took that video, at the time when she testified, said that she was not a confrontational person. She is not the type of person who would stand up and yell at somebody. But she proved that you can make a difference just by being there and being present and being aware. And that may embolden more people, young people like herself, to maybe even speak out and more to be involved. And that's what I think some of the activists that I've been hearing from have been heartened mostly by the Chauvin convictions.
Is there going to be a change?
Moini: This week, we also saw news releases or statements out by some of the foremost police unions in our state, talking about how they want — as they put it — race baiting and the pandering by local elected officials and different elected officials to stop. That's a huge disconnect that if we can't talk about race in the equation, how are we to move forward and bridge gaps? Where do you see this going when there seems to be such a disconnect there?
Williams: Moving forward, there are some signs, again, that there may be some changes as people are well aware. For a while, for a long time, the Minneapolis Police Department's union was headed by a man named Bob Kroll. He's no longer there. He's been replaced by Cheryl Schmidt. And I don't know what's on her agenda for perhaps trying to mend some of these long-standing rifts between the Police Department and community. But there is a process that is ongoing right now between a group of community members and the union to bring about some changes to MPD policy to prevent further uses of unnecessary uses of force and likely in-custody deaths. So, yes, there are times we see these types of releases from the [Minneapolis Police] Federation that sound tone-deaf. But perhaps change is afoot.
Collins: And we did see during this trial that a divide between that police union sort of mentality that we're used to, and at least the officials and officers who testified from the Minneapolis Police Department, including Chief Medaria Arradondo, who testified against Derrick Chauvin. So there is the possibility that there is a cultural shift in the Minneapolis Police Department.
And when people ask, is that actually going to happen? My only answer is — time will tell. We're only going to find out from how the Police Department exercises its relationship with the community. But on top of that, we also have processes at the city level to change the charter. So that whole discussion from last year about defunding the police and re-envisioning public safety is still ongoing at the city level, and voters are probably going to get the chance to weigh in on whether they want this new Department of Public Safety or if they want to keep the Police Department intact and just try to change some of its policies and practices and cultures.
Listen to the full discussion and find more coverage on the Chauvin trial from In Front Of Our Eyes podcast.