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News Brief: Chauvin Found Guilty Of All 3 Counts In Floyd's Death

NOEL KING, HOST:

Derek Chauvin is in a jail cell this morning after a jury found him guilty of murder and manslaughter.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Across Minneapolis, the reaction has sounded like this.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: George Floyd, you changed the world.

MARTIN: It is the first time a white police officer has been found guilty of murder in that state. Minnesota's attorney general, Keith Ellison, was responsible for putting together the prosecution team. Here's what he said about the jury's decision.

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KEITH ELLISON: That long, hard, painstaking work has culminated today. I would not call today's verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability.

KING: NPR's Adrian Florido was inside the courtroom yesterday, and Leila Fadel was standing with the crowds that had gathered outside. They're both with us now. Hi, guys.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Hi.

KING: Adrian, after the verdict was read, Derek Chauvin was handcuffed and taken into custody. What was it like inside the courtroom?

FLORIDO: Well, I wasn't inside the courtroom, but I was inside the courthouse's media center. And I could see that as Judge Peter Cahill read the guilty verdict, Derek Chauvin sitting next to his attorney showed no emotion that we could discern behind his face mask. In contrast to that, George Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, who was sitting just a few feet away, wept openly. After the verdict was read, prosecutors asked the judge to revoke Derek Chauvin's bail. The judge did that. And then a sheriff's deputy went over, handcuffed Chauvin, led him away out of the courtroom. It was a striking scene. And Chauvin will be back in eight weeks for his sentencing.

KING: What kind of prison time is he facing?

FLORIDO: Well, you know, let's look at the three counts he was convicted on - second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Each of the two murder charges carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, though, for someone like Chauvin with no prior convictions, the recommendation is about 12 1/2 years. The manslaughter charge carries a roughly four-year recommended sentence. Now, the judge can diverge from those guidelines. And prosecutors have said they plan to seek a longer sentence because of aggravating factors in this case. That's something the judge will decide in the next few weeks. But it is certainly possible that Chauvin, who is 45 years old, could spend decades in prison.

KING: And I imagine there will be people who watch the sentencing as closely as they watched the trial. Leila, what was it like outside yesterday?

FADEL: Well, people were all staring at their phones, waiting for the verdict. And then you started to hear people tell each other guilty, he's guilty, it's all three and then just this massive cheer. And it felt like there was this moment of just a collective release. People wept. They held each other. For weeks, this has been a city on edge. And downtown, the buildings are boarded up. The courthouse is a fortress. There are National Guard on the streets. But yesterday, that tension kind of disappeared after 12 jurors made a decision to convict Chauvin on all three charges for the murder of George Floyd. And after the initial cheer, the crowd erupted into this chant.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) All three counts. All three counts. All three counts.

FADEL: And as the day went on, people drove through the streets outside the courthouse, honking in celebration. I met Whitney Lewis (ph) leaning out of her car window, flying a flag with the words Black Lives Matter.

WHITNEY LEWIS: I have four boys, and I'm scared every day because you don't know what's going to happen. But today, I see hope because now justice has been served for one man. There are still tons of names. There is still tons of justice that needs to be had. But today was a start, and I am blessed to witness this day and to hold my flag. And I'm proud to be Black today.

KING: And then, Adrian, George Floyd's family also spoke after the verdict. What did they say?

FLORIDO: Well, when the Floyd family spoke to the press about an hour after the verdict, we learned that just like Floyd's brother inside that courtroom, the entire family wept when they heard the verdict. Since Floyd's death, his brother, Philonise, has emerged as the most vocal member of his family. And yesterday, he said he could finally breathe again after that verdict. But he also said this.

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PHILONISE FLOYD: We have to always understand that we have to march. We will have to do this for life because it seems like this is a never-ending cycle.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yeah, yeah.

FLOYD: 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.

FLORIDO: So clearly, he also understood this was a tempered victory.

KING: A tempered victory. And, Leila, you heard a lot of people say this is just the beginning. What did they say to you is the larger implication here?

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, like you said, most people I spoke to talked about this being a moment the justice system worked - a former police officer held accountable, in part because his own colleagues and the police chief testified that what he did was wrong. But so often, people said, the system does not work for Black people and other people of color. So they're looking at what's next. Activists want a transformation of a system that is sometimes fatal for Black people. We've already heard calls for drastic shifts in funding away from armed policing and into other forms of public safety. People ask, would Daunte Wright, the young man killed in Brooklyn Center outside Minneapolis by police in a routine traffic stop just over a week ago, would he be dead if an unarmed city worker made traffic stops and handed out tickets? I met Jessica Larsen (ph) outside the courthouse, and she said these convictions are a rare case of accountability, a beginning.

JESSICA LARSEN: We have weak deadly force legislation. We have a lack of accountability for police officers all over this country. We have a doctrine, a legal doctrine, that literally protects police officers when they shoot before thinking, which is qualified immunity. And so, really, I'm just hoping that this will be a step forward.

KING: And, of course, Leila, people are also asking, would Derek Chauvin have been tried if there hadn't been civil unrest in Minneapolis and across the country last summer?

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, most people I spoke to say they don't think what happened yesterday would have happened without mass protests, unrest that we saw last summer, parts of the city literally burned. And they also ask why, why it takes a horrific video of a man losing his life on camera for nine minutes and 29 seconds to get convictions like the ones we saw yesterday. So they want systemic change that will prevent what happened to Floyd and what has happened to others.

KING: You have both been covering this story since George Floyd was killed. And I want to ask you, what is going to stick with you after the verdict, Adrian?

FLORIDO: I mean, we'll never forget the wrenching courtroom testimony. You know, we'll never forget the marches demanding this verdict, demanding systemic change. This verdict may not lead to that, Noel. It may not change a thing about how police officers treat Black people in our country. But as we saw in the jubilation across the country last night, this conviction was something a lot of people needed.

KING: Leila.

FADEL: I thought about what was happening outside the courtroom. In the middle of this trial, another Black man was killed outside of Minneapolis by police, Daunte Wright. Hours before the prosecution presented opening statements here, a 13-year-old killed in Chicago. And every day since testimony began, at least one person has been killed in police custody.

KING: NPR's Leila Fadel and Adrian Florido in Minneapolis, thank you both.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Noel.

FADEL: Thanks, Noel.

KING: After the verdict was delivered, President Biden called George Floyd's family, and then the family shared some video from that call.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'm anxious to see you guys. I really am. And we're going to get a lot more done. We're going to get police - we're going to do a lot.

MARTIN: In 2020, President Biden ran on many issues as a candidate. Addressing systemic racism was one of them. Some activists have been disappointed that he hasn't taken direct action on police violence. Here's what he said yesterday.

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BIDEN: This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America. Let's also be clear that such a verdict is also much too rare.

KING: Juana Summers covers race and justice for the NPR Politics team. She's been following this one. Good morning, Juana.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: We heard a little bit of the call. What did Biden say and at what length to the family?

SUMMERS: Sure. One of the big things we heard him say to the family and what we did hear of that call is the fact that, you know, he promised to do a lot more. And that was really the tone also of the remarks that we heard him make. He spoke in incredibly personal terms about the members of this family. He talked about the fear that many Black and brown people have around those interactions with law enforcement, that fear that it could mean losing their lives. And importantly, he touched on the trauma that many people, even who are unconnected with this case, felt when they watched this trial and saw Floyd's murder play out over and over again.

KING: President Biden also acknowledged that accountability for Black Americans who are killed by police is still very rare, too rare, he said.

SUMMERS: Yeah, that's right. It is incredibly rare for police officers to be convicted of murder for killing someone on duty. And I do think we just have to note how many other police killings of Black people that we have been covering in the last few weeks of this trial has gone on. There are a couple of factors to note here, chief among them is the video at this trial's centerpiece, President Biden noting that almost 10 minutes of video showed the world the final moments of Floyd's life. Biden also referenced how rare it is that fellow police officers testified against Chauvin rather than to close the ranks around the former officer. Biden said that, you know, while most who wear the badge serve honorably, those who fail to meet that standard must be held accountable. We heard him describe Floyd's killing as, quote, "a murder in full light of day that exposed injustice." But he also noted that for so many, it feels like it just has taken so much for this judicial system to deliver even basic accountability.

KING: Advocates and activists have criticized President Biden for not taking action on police reform faster. Do they have a point? What has he done?

SUMMERS: Yeah, so I think part of this stems from the way that the president talked about this as a candidate. The killing of George Floyd changed the shape of the presidential campaign and prompted Biden to make calls for racial equity and an overhaul of the criminal justice system a more central element of his message. And voters elected him and Vice President Harris. But so far, in the first few months of his term, we have not seen a concerted push on police reform. Now, the president supports congressional legislation named for Floyd that would overhaul policing. He talked about that yesterday. But that bill has been stalled in the Senate. And though the president has broadly focused on these equity issues, we haven't heard from the White House yet about any efforts the president might make to ensure this policing bill actually becomes law.

KING: So people are looking for the specifics. NPR's Juana Summers. Thank you, Juana, for your reporting. We appreciate it.

SUMMERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.