Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, was convicted on Tuesday of murdering African-American George Floyd after a racially charged trial seen as a pivotal test of police accountability in the United States.
The jury deliberated less than 11 hours before finding 45-year-old Chauvin guilty of all three charges against him: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
A crowd gathered outside the heavily guarded downtown Minneapolis courtroom erupted in cheers, and some wept tears of relief, when the verdicts were announced after a three-week trial that had an entire nation on edge.
Chauvin, who had been free on bail, was put in handcuffs after Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill read out the unanimous verdicts reached by the racially diverse, seven-woman five-man jury.
Wearing a facemask and displaying no visible emotion, Chauvin was escorted out of the courtroom by a deputy as one of Floyd’s brothers, Philonise Floyd, embraced prosecutors.
Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison on the most serious charge — second-degree murder. Sentencing will be at a later date.
The 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis police force, was seen on video kneeling on the neck of Floyd for more than nine minutes as he lay facedown and handcuffed on the ground saying repeatedly “I can’t breathe”.
The 46-year-old Floyd’s death during his May 25, 2020 arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill sparked protests against racial injustice and police brutality around the world.
Ahead of the verdict, cities across the United States had been braced for potential unrest and National Guard troops have been deployed in Minneapolis.
George Floyd’s brother Rodney said that Black people in America had been victims of deadly injustice at the hands of the authorities for hundreds of years.
“We needed a victory in this case, it’s very important, and we got it and hey, we might actually breathe a little bit better now,” he added.
US President Joe Biden called members of the Floyd family to say he was “relieved” by the verdicts, then later he and Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the nation in televised remarks.
“This can be a giant step forward in the march towards justice in America,” Biden said, as he called on citizens to “unite” against racism and violence.
Harris, America’s first female and first Black vice president, told the family it was “a day of justice in America,” and that “history will look back at this moment”.