Sighs of relief at the Chauvin guilty verdict, but activists say the work on racial justice is far from over

Philonise Floyd, attorney Ben Crump and the Rev. Al Sharpton (L to R) react following the verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. By Madeline Holcombe, Eric Levenson and Aaron Cooper, CNN

(CNN) -- While the nation paused for the reading of the guilty verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin -- and many rejoiced -- activists say now is a moment to keep moving forward in addressing racial injustice.

"It's a relief, but the celebration is premature," the Rev. Jesse Jackson told CNN.

"We must break the backbone of legal lynching forever. Police killing people is getting away with legal lynching," Jackson said. "So, we still have a lot of work to do, this is a first down, not a touchdown."

The evidence of the work ahead can be found no more than 10 miles from the courthouse where Chauvin was convicted, Jackson said. In the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, burial plans are underway for Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop on April 11.

Chauvin, 45, was convicted Tuesday of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of George Floyd -- all three of the charges he faced. The jurors deliberated for more than 10 hours over two days before coming to their decision.

The verdict reverberated throughout the US, where many cities saw large-scale demonstrations in the wake of Floyd's death in May 2020. Footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes ignited weeks of protests -- as well as looting and unrest -- and refueled national conversations around policing and racial bias in the US.


When the verdict was read Tuesday, a symphony of celebration sounded outside the government center where the trial was held, as well as 4 miles to the south, at the intersection where Floyd drew his last breaths.

Among crowds of hundreds, people cheered, shouted out in joy and raised hands skyward as car horns honked, while some cried in relief. Others strained to hear from their cell phones the rest of what the judge had to say as he adjourned the trial.

"This is a huge day for the world," Floyd's girlfriend Courteney Ross told reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday. "We walked around with eyes wide shut for a long time, so they're starting to open today, and this is going to be the first in a future of change."

The teen who captured the video that shocked the country said she cried when the verdict was announced.

"George Floyd we did it!!" Darnella Frazier said on Facebook. "Justice has been served."

Inside the court, Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's younger brother, clasped his hands over his head in prayer as the verdicts were read, according to pool reporters, including CNN's Josh Campbell. During the third guilty verdict, his hands shook back and forth and he kept his eyes closed as his head nodded up and down, the report said.

After court concluded, Philonise Floyd was seen crying as he hugged all four prosecutors.

"I was just praying they would find him guilty," he said. "As an African American, we usually never get justice."

At a news conference reacting to the verdict, Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump repeatedly and triumphantly shouted "Say his name!" as some of Floyd's relatives, along with Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and others responded, "George Floyd!"

In a statement, the Floyd family described the verdict as "painfully earned justice." It added: "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."

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz lauded the verdict, although he reiterated that there is much more to do in enacting change for the Black community in his state.

"This is the floor, not the ceiling of where we need to get to," Walz said. "We know that accountability in the courtroom is only the very first step."

President Joe Biden also welcomed the verdict, but said the outcome was "too rare" for the country to turn away now from issues of systemic racism. "This can be a moment of significant change," he said.

The verdict, and the sentencing to come

Chauvin was mostly still as the judge read the verdicts. After the judge revoked Chauvin's bail and adjourned the session, Chauvin stood and put his hands behind his back so an officer could cuff them.

After turning his head to hear something his lawyer said, he nodded twice and walked out of the courtroom, escorted by the officer behind him.

Sentencing will take place in about eight weeks -- so, about the second week of June -- the judge said, with a precise date to be announced.

Chauvin had been out on bail since October. With bail revoked Tuesday, he was taken to a state correctional facility in Stillwater, about 25 miles east of downtown Minneapolis, where he will await sentencing.

Chauvin's sentence will depend on several factors, including the state's sentencing guidelines, and whether the judge decides to go beyond the guidelines because of certain circumstances.

Technically, Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder and up to 10 years for manslaughter.

However, Chauvin has no prior criminal record. The state's guidelines say that for such a person, the presumptive sentence for both second-degree and third-degree murder is 12 1/2 years. The judge is given discretion to hand down a sentence between 10 years and eight months and 15 years for each.

Second-degree manslaughter carries a presumptive sentence of four years for someone with no record, according to the guidelines. The judge's discretion ranges from three years and five months to four years and eight months.

However, prosecutors are asking for a tougher sentence than the recommendations provide.

In two filings last year, prosecutors said five aggravating factors warrant an increased sentence. Those factors include that Floyd was particularly vulnerable, that he was treated with particular cruelty, and that children were present when the crimes were committed.

If the judge applies aggravating factors, it would shift Chauvin's sentence to a higher part of the legal range.

The sentences for all three crimes would likely be served at the same time, not consecutively. "Generally, when an offender is convicted of multiple current offenses... concurrent sentencing is presumptive," according to the guidelines.

How the trial unfolded

Prosecutors called 38 witnesses over the course of three separate phases of the trial.

First, bystanders at the scene testified about their fear and horror as they watched Floyd slowly die under Chauvin's restraint. Next, a series of police supervisors and use-of-force experts -- including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo -- criticized Chauvin's continued kneeling as excessive and unreasonable, particularly after Floyd had passed out, stopped breathing and had no pulse.

Finally, five separate medical experts explained that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen when Chauvin restricted his ability to breathe in what's known as "positional asphyxia."

In the state's closing argument, Schleicher said Chauvin knelt on Floyd for so long because of his pride and his ego in the face of concerned bystanders.

"He was not going to let these bystanders tell him what to do. He was going to do what he wanted, how he wanted, for as long as he wanted. And there was nothing, nothing they can do about it because he had the authority. He had the power, and the other officers, the bystanders were powerless," he said. "He was trying to win, and George Floyd paid for it with his life."

He contrasted Chauvin's "ego-based pride" with the proper feelings of pride in wearing a police badge and praised policing as a noble profession. He insisted the state was prosecuting Chauvin individually -- not policing in general.

"This is not an anti-police prosecution; it is a pro-police prosecution," he said. "There is nothing worse for good police than bad police."

In response, Nelson said Chauvin acted as a "reasonable officer" would in that situation and said there was no evidence he intentionally or purposefully used force that was unlawful.

"You have to take into account that officers are human beings, capable of making mistakes in highly stressful situations," Nelson said. "In this case, the totality of the circumstances that were known to a reasonable police officer in the precise moment the force was used demonstrates that this was an authorized use of force, as unattractive as it may be. This is reasonable doubt."

The three other former officers on scene -- Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao -- are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. They have pleaded not guilty, and their joint trial will be held this summer.

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