Marchers in spring 2020 protest the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman on Memorial Day. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego lawmakers hailed Tuesday’s guilty verdicts against former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, and San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore urged anyone wishing to publicly demonstrate so in a law-abiding manner.

At least two protests were planned according to social media, but there were no reports of violence after Gore urged San Diegans “expressing their emotions related to the verdict do so peacefully and with respect to other people and property.”

Local lawmakers and religious leaders called the verdict “a defining moment” in American history but stressed there is hard work ahead to create true racial justice.

“The jury has rightly called this case what it was: murder,” said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. “Derek Chauvin’s actions were an abuse of power and a disservice to the men and women who nobly protect and serve our communities — and now, he will be held accountable.” 

Gloria added: “Today, millions of Americans know that their cries for justice were heard. In the same way people across the country rallied to speak up for George Floyd, it is my hope we will take up the important work that remains to address the systemic wrongs against Black people in this country and come together to heal. I encourage all San Diegans to honor George Floyd’s memory peacefully.” 

San Diego City Council President Jennifer Campbell said the verdicts gave here great relief.

“While no actions could take away the pain of his loss and the frustration felt across the country, it is a step in the right direction,” she said. “Our City Council will keep working toward the goal of equity and social justice to create a better San Diego.”

Fellow Democrat Nathan Fletcher, president of the county Board of Supervisors, said justice was served in Minnesota, “but this case is reflective of a serious problem of systemic racism and perpetual violence against communities of color across our nation. The work to fundamentally deliver justice and fairness for communities of color must continue.”

Fellow Supervisor Nora Vargas said in a tweet: “The verdict … will not heal the loss George Floyd’s family and community must live with. We continue to be reminded almost daily through the various injustices in the news and the various stories that don’t make the news, that we have a long way to go as a country to dismantle the institutions that have unfairly and discriminately been used against communities of color, particularly our Black communities.”

After saying the fight for justice must be renewed, she closed with: “Enough is enough, an injustice against one is an injustice against all, and now more than ever it is important to reaffirm that Black Lives Matter.”

District Attorney Summer Stephan tweeted her approval of the Minneapolis verdict.

“The jury system is the cornerstone of our democracy and today it delivered a just verdict that I hope will provide a measure of comfort to George Floyd’s family, and help us move forward as a nation toward justice for all,” she said. “In the wake of this gut-wrenching murder, San Diego County has enacted several reforms and we are committed to boldly continuing on this path.”

Rep. Sara Jacobs, the Democrat representing the 53rd Congressional District, said she was grateful for the jury’s guilty verdict, “but true justice would be having George Floyd at home with his family. One guilty verdict doesn’t change the reality of being Black in America. “

“For decades,” she added, “Black Americans have had difficult conversations with their children about the dangers of police interactions gone wrong. And for decades, they’ve been subjected to video footage of their loved ones beaten and brutalized when the worst happens. We have to do better, and we will do better. “

Jacobs noted that the House last month passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bill to reform a broken system. 

“It’s time for the Senate to pass the bill and for all of us to start the hard work of doing right by Black Americans,” she said. “Black lives matter, and George Floyd should still be here.” 

“True justice would mean George Floyd returning home to his daughter,” Jacobs said. “Today’s guilty verdict is one step in the long march toward equality.”

Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, said, “Justice has prevailed. Derek Chauvin will be held responsible for his actions, but that doesn’t change the fact that George Floyd should be alive today. We must do more to improve policing & hold law enforcement accountable.”

Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, said the verdict “marks a defining moment in our nation’s history” and “delivered accountability.”

Peters said, however, that work “to pursue a more fair and equitable America does not stop today. We as individuals, communities, and institutions must do more to change our systems, so they ensure justice, safety, and opportunity for all.”

Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, said “systemic racism is the real root of the problem. We have to continue that change from within, accept the reality of what has been happening, and chart a course for change. If we don’t start with that — even as we work to implement laws, policies, guidelines, and measures to ensure progress — it either won’t have a lasting impact or won’t happen at all.”

Former congressional candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar tweeted: “True justice for George Floyd would mean he would still be here. This is accountability and closure, the first steps towards true, enduring justice.”

New Assemblywoman Akilah Weber said via Twitter: “The jury handed down the right verdicts today. Accountability is the first step to achieving justice. There is still much work that needs to be done.”

Bishop Robert W. McElroy, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, expressed support for the verdict and step forward:

“Today’s conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd is a necessary—and welcome—step forward in America’s ongoing struggle to create a freer and more just society.  Let us all thank God for this moment.”

The Rev. Rev. Shane Harris, a San Diego civil rights activist and president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates — who visited Minneapolis last summer and met with George Floyd’s younger brother Terrence Floyd — said in a statement:

“Today is a major mark in the path toward reimagining policing in America however it is only a mark and we must acknowledge that. The reality is that there is a Derek Chauvin in a police department near you and the question is whether our local, state and federal governments will step up to protect the next George Floyd from being killed in our country.”

He pointed out that Chauvin had multiple complaints against him during his police career on, “and the department failed to act.”

“We will not have an attorney general like Keith Ellison in every state going forward to press for justice like he did which is why I call on the U.S. Senate to urgently bring the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 to the Senate floor now, pass the legislation and send it to the president’s desk to sign immediately,” he said. “Black lives won’t matter until Black life matters.”

Sheriff Gore said that for anyone planning protests, ” a collective effort from all is needed to ensure the safety of the participants and the community.”

“If you are participating in a demonstration and are asked by law enforcement to leave the area, please do so,” the sheriff said.

Likewise, anyone witnessing violence or other criminal activity related to a protest should “move to a safe place and report it,” Gore added.

Following a three-week trial, jurors found Chauvin, who is white, guilty of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter for the killing of Floyd, who was Black, last Memorial Day.

A witness-shot videotape of Floyd’s death while handcuffed and pinned by the neck to the ground under Chauvin’s knee sparked months of police- brutality and anti-racism demonstrations and counter-protests across the country.

The 12-member jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty of all charges including second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter after considering three weeks of testimony from 45 witnesses, including bystanders, police officials and medical experts. Deliberations began on Monday and lasted just over 10 hours.

In a confrontation captured on video, Chauvin, who is white, pushed his knee into the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in handcuffs, for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020, as he and three fellow officers arrested Floyd, who was accused of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a grocery store.

Chauvin, wearing a gray suit with a blue tie and white shirt as well as a light-blue pandemic-related face mask, nodded and stood quickly when the judge ruled that his bail was revoked after the verdict was read.

He was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs and placed in the custody of the Hennepin County Sheriff.

Outside the courthouse, a crowd of several hundred people erupted in cheers when the verdict was announced. Cars honked and chants of “George Floyd” and “All three counts” broke out.

Chris Dixon, a 41-year old Black Minneapolis resident, had tears rolling down his face.

“I was hoping that we would get justice and it looks like we did,” he said. “I’m just very proud of where I live right now.”

At George Floyd square in Minneapolis, the intersection where Floyd was killed and is now named after him, people screamed, applauded and some threw dollar bills in the air in celebration. The site has since become a rallying point for racial justice protests.

“Justice for Black America is justice for all of America,” the Floyd family’s attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement. “This case is a turning point in American history for accountability of law enforcement and sends a clear message we hope is heard clearly in every city and every state.”

Chauvin had pleaded not guilty to the charges of second-degree unintentional murder involving “intentional infliction of bodily harm,” third-degree unintentional “depraved mind” murder involving an “act eminently dangerous to others,” and second-degree manslaughter involving a death caused by “culpable negligence.”

While the U.S. criminal justice system and juries have long given leeway and some legal protection to police officers who use violence to subdue civilians, the jurors in this case found that Chauvin had crossed the line and used excessive force.

Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, Chauvin faces 12-1/2 years in prison for his murder conviction as a first-time criminal offender. Prosecutors could, however, seek a longer sentence up to the maximum of 40 years if Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the trial, determines that there were “aggravating factors.”

In Minnesota, convicted criminals generally leave prison on supervised release after completing two thirds of their sentence. Chauvin had no previous criminal convictions.

The jury included four white women, two white men, three Black men, one Black woman and two multiracial women, according to court records.

Earlier on Tuesday, President Joe Biden said he had spoken by phone with members of Floyd’s family.

“They’re a good family, and they’re calling for peace and tranquility, no matter what that verdict is. I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is – I think it’s overwhelming in my view. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now, (would) not hear me say that,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

The intersection of race and law enforcement has long been contentious in the United States, underscored by a series of deadly incidents involving white police officers and Black people in a number of American cities in recent years.

Floyd’s death prompted protests against racism and police brutality in many cities in the United States and around the world last year.

The Minneapolis Police Department fired Chauvin and three other officers the day after Floyd’s arrest. The three others are due to face trial later this year on aiding-and-abetting charges in Floyd’s death.

A cardiologist, a pulmonologist, a toxicologist and a forensic pathologist were medical experts called by prosecutors to testify that videos and autopsy results confirmed that Chauvin killed Floyd by compressing his body into the street in a way that starved him of oxygen.

The defense argued that Chauvin behaved as any “reasonable police officer” would have under these circumstances, and sought to raise doubts about the cause of Floyd’s death, saying heart disease or even the exhaust fumes from the nearby police car may have been factors.

Darnella Frazier, a teenager who told the jury she was taking her 9-year-old cousin to the Cup Foods grocery store that evening to get snacks, was among the witnesses called by prosecutors after jurors began hearing testimony on March 29.

Frazier had used her cellphone to make a video depicting Floyd’s excruciating ordeal, images that catalyzed the subsequent protests. Floyd can be heard on the video crying out for his mother and telling officers he could not breathe. Eventually Chauvin lifted his knee to allow paramedics to place Floyd’s limp body onto a stretcher.

Other eyewitnesses described the horror and lingering trauma of watching Floyd die in front of them. Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend of nearly three years, recalled their first kiss and their shared struggle with opioid addiction.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo appeared as a prosecution witness to testify that Chauvin’s actions during the arrest represented an egregious breach of his training.

Throughout the trial, Chauvin wore a suit and took notes on yellow legal pads while sitting alongside defense attorney Eric Nelson. Members of Floyd’s family took turns attending the trial, though some tried to avert their gaze when video of Floyd’s death, recorded from multiple angles, was replayed to jurors.

The judge ordered the jurors to be sequestered after they began deliberations.

Updated at 5:50 a.m. Wednesday, April 21, 2021

— Reuters and City News Service contributed to this report

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