What just happened?
Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on Monday of three criminal charges in the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was arrested in May 2020 on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. While being detained, Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Video of the event showed that Floyd said “I can’t breathe” 27 times before dying of heart failure.
What were the criminal charges for which Chauvin was convicted?
Chauvin was convicted of three separate charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. None of the charges required the prosecution to prove that Chauvin intended to kill Floyd. Instead, they are based on Chauvin’s mental state and his actions when the death occurred.
Murder in the second degree (unintentional) occurs whenever a person causes the death of a human being, without intent to effect the death of any person, while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense other than criminal sexual conduct in the first or second degree with force or violence or a drive-by shooting. In Chauvin’s case, the felony he was committing when the homicide occurred was third-degree assault (i.e., assault that inflicts substantial bodily harm).
Murder in the third degree occurs whenever a person has no intent to effect the death of any person, yet causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life. In this case, the prosecution was able to convince the jury Chauvin’s kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost ten minutes was sufficient evidence of his state of mind.
Manslaughter in the second degree can be based on one of five conditions. In Chauvin’s case, the prosecution was able to prove culpable negligence occurred when the former police officer created an unreasonable risk, and consciously took chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.
What was the basis of Chauvin’s conviction?
The primary evidence presented by prosecutors was video of the homicide. As Fabiola Cineas and Sean Collins note, a “combination of bystander cellphone video, store and street surveillance footage, and police body camera video” captured the death of Floyd from several angles and was watched by the jury “more than three dozen times.”
A total of 38 witnesses were also called, including almost a dozen police officers who testified that Chauvin’s force was excessive and unnecessary. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo even testified that what Chauvin did constituted “murder.”
The state’s medical examiner also testified that Chauvin’s restraint and neck compression stopped Floyd’s heart.
How much time will Chauvin serve in prison?
The maximum sentence in Minnesota is 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, 25 years for third-degree murder, and 10 years for manslaughter. But through Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines for someone with no prior conviction like Chauvin, a second- and third-degree murder conviction would likely carry a sentence of 12.5 years each and four years for manslaughter. If Chauvin is convicted on more than one charge, he will only serve a sentence for the most severe.
Because he has no prior criminal history, the state’s sentencing guidelines would require his minimum sentence to be 12.5 years. But the sentencing judge can increase the sentence if the defendant waived right to jury determination of aggravating factors or if jury determined there were aggravating factors. Chauvin waived his right, and Judge Cahill said he expected to begin a sentencing hearing in about eight weeks.
During that time, Chauvin will undergo an extensive background check, including of his habits and character, that the judge can consider in the final sentencing. The prosecutors in the case are expected to argue that Chauvin committed several aggravating factors, including that he “abused his position of authority.”
What has been the response by Christian leaders?
Christian leaders from around the country have praised the conviction as a necessary act of justice. Yet many also recognize it is the first step in a long process of correcting race-based injustice.
TGC Council members Russell Moore and Daniel Akin both expressed such sentiments on Twitter. “Grateful for justice rendered in Minneapolis,” Moore said. “Let’s remember today the family of George Floyd. And let’s work together for a new era of racial justice and American hope.” Akin responded by saying, “Amen! There is still more work that needs to be done. Let’s do it together. All of us!!!”
Moore also posted an article on his website saying, “One of the reasons this trial has captured the attention of the world is that it is not an isolated incident.” He added:
We have seen in our history the ways in which over and over again authority has been used not to provide justice but to deny it. The Jim Crow system was created for just this purpose—to see to it that African American citizens were deprived of their God-given civil rights by day and terrorized with impunity by night. Nor have these issues gone away. History by itself cannot wipe away sin and injustice. Thus, we see instance after instance of especially African American men facing danger and sometimes death—often without the endpoint of the sort of verdict this court has handed down. Our structures and systems, of course, belong to us. For them, we are accountable.
TGC Board member K. Edward Copeland wrote a similar reflection on Facebook: “People of good will around the globe are breathing a sigh of relief. Please don’t forget, however, we had to have a global protest for there to even be a prosecution. Then local prosecutors bumbled the case so badly that the attorney general had to take over the prosecution.” Copeland added:
We were praying for a just verdict in a case where a man was tortured to death in broad daylight, while witnesses of all colors and backgrounds including a 9 yr old, begged for humanity to prevail. Convicted murderer Derek Chauvin casually kneeled on another human’s neck for 9 min 29 seconds with his hands in his pockets. He ignored cries for help. He rendered no aid while George Floyd was alive and no apology when he died.
The fact that we (at least black people) are not only relieved but pleasantly surprised and praising God that accountability prevailed says a lot about where we are as a country.
I’m stuck between ‘Thank you, Lord!’ and ‘Lord, help us!’
If you’re feeling anxious and relieved, grateful and agitated that you should feel so grateful for what others take for granted, welcome to my world. Take a seat; we’re going to be here for a while.
UPDATE: Shai Linne, who wrote the TGC article “George Floyd and Me” (June 8, 2020), provided this comment on the verdict:
I’m glad that justice was done, but it’s hard to be joyful given the tragic nature of the entire ordeal. For me, there are four lasting images from the trial:
1. The look of terror on George Floyd’s face when the officer had his gun pointed at him while Floyd was still in his car.
2. The nonchalant expression on Chauvin’s face as he kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
3. The look of uncertainty (and perhaps fear?) in Chauvin’s eyes as he heard the verdict of guilty on all charges.
4. Seeing Chauvin taken into custody with his hands cuffed behind his back, mirroring the way that Floyd’s hands were cuffed 11 months earlier.
Finally, I can’t look at court proceedings like this without considering the final judgment. The thought of standing before a holy God without an Advocate and hearing the pronouncement of eternal condemnation is awful beyond imagination. It’s another reminder of why the gospel is so precious.