Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on April 20, for the murder of George Floyd, following 10 months of protests against police brutality, including some initiated by Quinnipiac University community members.
Chauvin was found guilty of second and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for Floyd’s death. In viral footage from May 25, 2020, Chauvin was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd struggled to breathe. Police were initially called to the scene of Cup Foods convenience store in Minneapolis after Floyd allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill.
“When I heard the verdict via the livestream, I was relieved but not satisfied,” said Jennifer Greene, a junior public relations and media studies double major.
Greene said watching Chauvin’s trial was upsetting because although there was substantial evidence against him, due to the authority of police officers, it was not clear if Chauvin would be charged.
“This was a significant case in that it is equally rare that you would find a law enforcement officer convicted of a crime,” said Kalfani Ture, assistant professor of criminal justice and former police officer. “So that I’m certain it was on the mind of the prosecutorial team that a conviction was possibly unlikely.”
Ture credited the evidence and the “diverse array” of witnesses presented by the prosecution as the key influences in the case. Among the witnesses called to testify was Darnella Frazier, the 18-year-old who originally filmed the video of the incident that would later go viral.
“I only hope, and I felt in my heart, that the verdict didn’t just give the family relief, it didn’t just give the community relief, it didn’t just give the members of the police community who witnessed this atrocious and gratuitous act of violence relief, but it gave that young girl relief,” Ture said, referencing Frazier.
Ture said the result of this case is a form of accountability but not justice, as there are still systemic issues in policing that need to be addressed.
Dawn Cathey, a former New Haven police sergeant who currently teaches courses at Quinnipiac including “Racism as a Public Health Emergency in Hamden” and “The Future of Policing in America” echoed Ture’s sentiment that police reform is imminent.
“I think that the police department is one part of an overall issue with the criminal justice system,” Cathey said. “So I think that that’s where the reform has to be collaborative and it has to be done in a way that we are addressing the police department and the law and the criminal justice system, but we’re also looking at systemic racism at the same time.”
Under Minnesota criminal code, second-degree murder “causes the death of a human being, without intent to effect the death of any person, while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense.”
“In this case, the felony was third-degree assault. Here, the prosecution opted not to charge him with intentionally causing Floyd’s death,” said Steve Walsh, a legal studies professor and lawyer.
According to Minnesota criminal code, “whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree.”
“Here, the prosecution claimed kneeling on his neck for nine-plus minutes was eminently dangerous and doing this while Floyd handcuffed and said numerous times that he was unable to breathe shows reckless disregard for human life,” Walsh said.
Minnesota criminal code states a person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree “whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.”
“Kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine-plus minutes creates an unreasonable risk of causing death or great bodily injury and he knelt on his neck consciously,” Walsh said.
Following the verdict, President Judy Olian and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Don Sawyer said Quinnipiac “will continue to take actions that promote lasting and community-wide progress to build a more inclusive, welcoming and compassionate community and to nurture in our students and graduates a commitment to contribute to a just society that values all.”
They also announced an open Zoom forum with faculty members on April 26, to discuss the Chauvin case.
Floyd’s death sparked nationwide movements and calls for systemic change, including some initiated by Quinnipiac students and faculty last June.
A petition started by former Quinnipiac student Sokaina Asar calling for “change and support” from Quinnipiac administrators on matters of racial injustice gained over 4,500 signatures. Other students began a movement to share the stories of non-white Quinnipiac students and fundraise for Black Lives Matter via Instagram.
The Quinnipiac Faculty Senate released a three-page statement sharing commitments to progress through the university curriculum and other university-wide events.
One of these events was a webinar with Floyd’s aunt Angela Harrison and uncle Selwyn Jones last October. They told attendees to continue fighting against injustice and stay hopeful.
In July, Olian shared the implementation of a 10-point plan to advance racial justice at Quinnipiac. Since then, the university has created an optional diversity, equity and inclusion course for students. According to an email from Sawyer, the university will share an update on the progress of the plan with the community on April 28.