SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—The former Minneapolis police officer who was seen in a video killing a Black man by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes was convicted Tuesday on counts of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Derek Chauvin faces at least 12 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd, according to multiple national media reports. Prosecutors, however, could seek a longer sentence of up to 40 years, Reuters reported.
The conviction brings to an end a case that sparked global outcry about the treatment of Black Americans by law enforcement, and other U.S. institutions—but by no means does it end the conversations spurred by Floyd’s death.
The four Santa Cruz County Mayors—Capitola Mayor Yvette Brooks, Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra, Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers and Scotts Valley Mayor Derek Timm—released a joint statement following the verdict asking the community to “join together as we move toward justice and healing.”
“The heartbreaking murder of George Floyd and many other people of color has highlighted the systemic problem of racism throughout our country,” the statement read. “We are by no means close to ending the hundreds of years of injustices put on the shoulders of people of color. As leaders in Santa Cruz County we have the responsibility to implement and encourage change in our region. We stand with all communities of color, including the very ones we represent here in our diverse county.
“We urge our community to come together today and everyday in peaceful solidarity.”
Chauvin, 45, who is white, in the video was seen forcing his knee into Floyd’s neck on May 25, 2020 during an arrest in connection to Floyd’s reported use of a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store. Floyd, 46, was handcuffed while laying on the floor face down with Chauvin’s knee pressing on his neck. He could be heard saying he could not breath before he went unconscious.
The Santa Cruz County branch of the NAACP in a statement said that the trial “serves as a reminder of the urgent need to pass legislation to hold police accountable, change the culture of law enforcement and build trust between law enforcement and our communities by preventing police brutality and allowing survivors and families of victims access to justice.”
“Enough is Enough. This verdict offers a measure of justice but no consolation to the family and friends of Mr. Floyd,” the statement read. “The time is now to not only reform but completely rethink the U.S. system of law enforcement.”
Watsonville Police Chief David Honda called the verdict “just.”
Honda says WPD was already making reforms to the way its officers police the community before Floyd’s murder. It is also looking into possible changes to the oversight of the department through the city’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Policing and Social Equity.
“We need to make changes that are meaningful and evidence-based,” he said. “I believe all law enforcement in Santa Cruz County are way ahead of the rest of the nation and I’m grateful that law enforcement professionals here are open to change.”
He added: “Remember: This is just one incident in a plethora of incidents around this country and we can’t let this one incident be the sole standard. It’s a wake up call to the entire profession to be open to a deeper, more meaningful dialogue.”
Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills said that the conviction has sent a message to Chauvin “and to officers like him.”
“… and the message is that you can’t use your position or your authority to abuse people and expect to get away with it,” Mills said. “In my opinion, it was murder and it turned out my perception was right.”
Mills said that the conviction has had a ripple effect on the law enforcement community nationwide.
“The murder of George Floyd caused us to pause and reset and take a look at our policies and change the policies that we can, to make sure that we are policing justly in all segments of the community,” Mills said. “If we do that correctly, it not only makes the Black community safer and the brown community safer, it makes all communities safer.”
SCPD recently made 25 changes to the way it polices the city, Mills says, including ending no-knock warrants to requiring approval by a deputy chief for “dynamic entries,” when officers break down a door.
“We’re being very thoughtful and intentional about what we do and why,” Mills said.
SCPD officers also focus on de-escalation tactics, and all of them carry “less-lethal” weapons. In addition, they carry their Taser on the weak side of their bodies, to eliminate the wrong weapon being drawn.
While Mills says his officers operate under the rule of law, they also understand that they are operating under a dynamic time in law enforcement.
“Police officers understand that we’re entering a very different era of policing,” he said. “Progress needs to be made, and we serve the community, and whatever changes come we better be ready for and adjust to them.”
Barrios Unidos Executive Director Daniel “Nane” Alejandrez called the verdict a “step in the right direction.”
“Unfortunately there is so much injustice going on throughout the country, that one verdict like that doesn’t change what’s been happening throughout history,” said Alejandrez, the founder of Barrios Unidos, a violence prevention organization that seeks to providing alternatives to at-risk youth and re-entry opportunities to former prisoners.
Alejandrez pointed out that just before the verdict, police in Columbus, Ohio shot and killed 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant during an altercation.
“We have a lot of work to be done,” he said.