The conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin met with a sigh of relief from activists, lawmakers, U.S. citizens and officials, many of whom have long called for accountability for the murder of unarmed blacks in the country.
Many – including US President Joe Biden – asked what’s next, calling for stronger police reform and support for color communities.
On social media, many pointed to the first version of Floyd’s death by the Minneapolis police, in which Floyd died “after a medical incident while interacting with the police” without mentioning Chauvin kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes had as proof of how precarious police accountability remains in the US.
“This fabricated police story could have become the official account of George Floyd’s death if concerned citizens had not stepped in and recorded the police,” tweeted political commentator and former aide to Bill Clinton, Keith Boykin.
This fabricated police story could have become the official account of George Floyd’s death if citizens concerned had not stepped in and recorded the police. pic.twitter.com/9XOD5TkK3B
– Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) April 20, 2021
International and U.S. rights groups, lawmakers, and foreign officials were also quick to point out that the verdict was in the case of ex-officer Chauvin, who relied on a harsh portrayal of Floyd’s murder captured on cellphone video and footage of police bodies The possible conviction by the superiors of his Minneapolis police department is still extremely rare in the United States.
“As we have painfully seen in the last few days and weeks, the reforms of the police authorities in the US are still insufficient to prevent people of African origin from being killed,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN human rights chief, in a statement on Wednesday.
“The truth is that Derek Chauvin, held accountable for the murder of George Floyd, is the exception – not the rule,” Amnesty International’s Paul O’Brien said in a statement following the verdict.
“We need to recognize the racist roots of law enforcement in this country if we are to address systemic deficiencies in policing and to create meaningful public safety for those who have historically been treated over-police,” he said.
Justice for #GeorgeFloyd was rendered. But hundreds are still waiting for justice. Today’s verdict should only be the first step towards a long overdue due consideration and recognition of historical crimes against black communities. Pic.twitter.com/iBcaQSppKE
– Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) April 20, 2021
Human Right Watch’s John Raphling added that beyond the high profile murders, police continue to engage in compulsive but not fatal interactions with people, especially blacks, browns and people living in poverty, who do nothing to improve public safety.
“A criminal conviction for the most egregious and dramatic incident of violence is unlikely to change the systemic problems facing US police forces,” he wrote.
What happens next in the case?
Chauvin is expected to attempt to overturn his conviction of second and third degree murder and manslaughter, probably arguing like the defense throughout the trial that the jury was judged by media coverage and a publicly known settlement of $ 27 million compromised in civil proceedings was brought in by George Floyd’s family.
His attorneys have 60 days to inform the court of a proposed appeal that could result in all or some of the charges being overturned, particularly the second degree murder charge which has a maximum sentence of 40 years, albeit a long one shorter sentence, equivalent to 12.5 years, is recommended by Minnesota guidelines for someone without prior conviction, such as chauvin.
Legal experts generally believe that Chauvin’s chances of a successful appeal are slim, and note that his appeal likely also relates to protests against the police murder of Daunte Wright, an unarmed black in the nearby town of Brooklyn Center, in early April will focus, and comments from US Representative Maxine Waters calling on protesters to “become more confrontational” if Chauvin was acquitted.
Still, Joseph Friedberg, a Minnesota criminal defense attorney, told Reuters that an appeals court was unlikely to overturn a conviction based on media coverage or emotional protests.
“Cases are not rolled back on that basis,” he said.
Judge Peter Cahill said Chauvin will be sentenced in eight weeks. Technically, he faces up to 75 years in prison if he receives consecutive maximum sentences for the three counts. Based on government guidelines, he’s more likely to face roughly 40 years on the high end of the sentence.
Floyd’s death helped restart a racial justice movement in the United States that has grown historically in the wake of high-profile police killings, only to wane as officials repeatedly escaped criminal charges.
Even so, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) president Derrick Johnson called Chauvin’s trial “our Selma moment,” referring to the police crackdown during a civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
Pictures of the event – known as “Bloody Sunday” – shocked the nation and helped fuel support for the 1965 Suffrage Act.
“The world is watching,” he told CBS News of Chauvin’s trial.
While the judiciary landed Derek Chauvin behind bars for the murder of George Floyd, no measure of justice will bring Gianna’s father back.
We won’t rest until everyone in our church has the right to breathe. #DerekChauvinTrial
– Derrick Johnson (@DerrickNAACP) April 20, 2021
Congresswoman Karen Bass also said she believed the process would give momentum to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which seeks to reform the federal police force and has been passed twice by the democratically controlled House of Representatives.
The bill that would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants across the board and at the same time restrict the guidelines that make it difficult for the police to be held personally liable for their conduct on duty has failed in the Senate. It faces an uphill, if not insurmountable, struggle to reach its 60-vote threshold in the chamber, which is split between 50 and 50 Democrats and Republicans.
Police reform at the local and state levels has been more successful since Floyd’s death, although changes to the police force that advocates viewed as “transformative” were elusive.
Since Floyd’s death, at least 30 states have passed more than 140 new police oversight and reform laws. This emerges from an analysis by the New York Times, which includes data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Notably, 16 states have introduced restrictions on neck supports, while the analysis shows that ten have passed guidelines that mandate or fund police cameras.
Meanwhile, since last year’s protests, 46 of the top 100 U.S. cities have adopted new policies against the use of chokeholds, strangleholds, and pressure positions that killed Floyd, according to data collected by Campaign Zero. Another 13 cities are reviewing their policies and 27 have already had bans.
However, proponents say the patchwork approach leaves communities across the country vulnerable.
“Changes to the state and city-level rules for the use of force look unprecedented,” DeRay McKesson, protester and co-founder of Campaign Zero, told Al Jazeera in early April.
He added, however, “We know that it is not enough on its own.”