Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 364, 21 April 2021

The US: In the George Floyd murder trial, the jury finds the police officer guilty
D. Suba Chandran

In the news
On 20 April, the 12 member jury, after ten hours of discussion, found Derek Chauvin guilty following three weeks of deliberation. The former police officer, responsible for the death of George Floyd, was charged with three counts - second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

On the same day, President Biden, in an address, announced: "This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America." As a part of his address, he also said: "It was a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see…For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability."

Later, George Floyd's brother said: "We have to protest, because it seems like this is a never ending cycle… I'm going to put up a fight every day, because I'm not just fighting for George anymore, I'm fighting for everybody around this world."

Issues at large
First, the overwhelming role of the video of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd. The defence tried to argue that George Floyd's death was due to drugs in his system and related to his heart condition, and Derek Chauvin, the police officer, was not primarily responsible for Floyd's death. The defence also tried to argue that the police officer was only performing his duty, and his kneeling down was in line with the police training. However, the prosecution brought in witnesses that include police officers and medical experts that disproved the above two perspectives. More importantly, the video shot by someone in the street proved to be the primary case, making the jury conclude their verdict, calling Chauvin guilty.

Second, the larger social and political trial, outside the Court. Even before the trial could begin, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement closely followed the case and placed the entire judicial system on trial. Many BLM leaders openly said: it was not Derek Chauvin who was being tried but the entire American system. The BLM also looked at the trial, not only as that of justice for George Floyd but also for the entire African American community. It was seen as a test case of racial equality.

Third, the verdict against Chauvin as a beginning. The jury has given the verdict. The sentence has not been given yet. The Court is expected to give the sentencing; given the three counts on which Chauvin is found guilty, he should receive up to 40 years in prison. However, will he is the question. A section within the BLM also talks about "one down, three more to go" referring to three other police officers, who were also dismissed along with Chauvin.

In perspective
First, the fallout of the verdict on American society. According to reports in the media, many parts of the country were getting ready to address the protests across the US if the jury's verdict was otherwise. A report title in the Washington Post ("The Chauvin verdict had cities nationwide braced for unrest. Instead, they got a celebration") would reveal the nature of peace, accountability and justice in terms of racial relations within the US. A section believed that the jury would not find Chauvin guilty because of similar cases earlier. The African American community feels that the system is against them. Is the verdict on Chauvin's case an exception or likely to become a new normal for the US in terms of accountability?

Second, the verdict, on the one hand, should be seen as what Biden called as a "giant step forward in the march toward justice in America." On the other hand, it should also give a fillip to the Black Lives Matter movement, as George Floyd's brother said: "I'm not just fighting for George anymore, I'm fighting for everybody around this world."

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