On Tuesday, jurors found Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, after the former Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s back for nine minutes and 29 seconds in May 2020. Second-degree murder carries with it a sentence of up to 40 years.

Here, local leaders, advocates, and experts react to news of the verdict.

Apryl Alexander

Associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver and community organizer for Black Lives Matter 5280

Her reaction to the verdict:

Obviously, when I heard the three guilty verdicts, I felt a sigh of relief immediately that, finally for myself, for communities of color for people across the nation who knew of the videos and saw the video were finally….I’m still messed up….Finally were validated in what they saw. The recognition that the excessive use of force that was witnessed in that video was acknowledged by a court system. For me, I didn’t know what to expect, honestly. But we know in most cases of murder by police officers, we don’t get guilty verdicts or charges aren’t pressed. So I think a lot of us were holding our breath, because we were fearful that a similar verdict would come down today.

On why the verdict does not equal justice:

For some people, the verdict means they finally got justice. But this is just one case of the thousands per year of murder of unarmed citizens or unarmed people that happened by police each year. Yes, this is celebratory in that we did justice in one case, but we need to look within our own communities and think about other people who did not get the same type of justice, or we’re still waiting on justice to be served.

Dr. Timothy E. Tyler

Pastor at Shorter Community African Methodist Episcopal Church

His reaction to the verdict:

When I woke up this morning, I said my prayers. And my prayer this morning was ‘Lord, just bend the arc of the universe—just bend it a little bit towards justice,’ as Dr. King said. God always answers your prayers. He doesn’t always answer to your liking. But I feel like he answered that prayer this morning. I’m very happy about it….The people needed a breather. Black people needed something to hold onto. And this was not the end all, but this was some good news in a long string of bad news. People are—at least on this one, and for the sake of George Floyd—able to breathe.

On the work that lies ahead:

We have a lot of work to do. This is not the end of white supremacy, it is not the destruction of systemic racism….We’re gonna rejoice today. And then tomorrow, we’re gonna wonder if we can get justice for a 13-year-old boy that was killed in Chicago, or a military man, a Black man who was harassed at a gas station. We have a lot to wonder. But today, we’re gonna let the ancestors rejoice over this, then we’re gonna be seeking their guidance for what’s ahead of us. Locally, I think the people are gonna have to stay vigilant. We’re gonna to have to keep confronting, and not be passive, and we can’t be afraid to insist that this country treats us like human beings. There’s a lot in front of us. The work continues locally, nationally, in our state….but I think what today helps us to understand that it is a righteous work, and it is a work well worth doing. 

The family of Elijah McClain

Official statement:

We are gratified to see that Derek Chauvin has been held criminally accountable for murdering George Floyd. Any other result would have been a stunning miscarriage of justice for a murder that the entire world witnessed on video.

Unfortunately, Colorado prosecutors have not shown the same commitment to holding officers accountable for the murder of civilians. So far, we have not seen any charges against those who murdered Elijah McClain, an innocent young Black man who was walking home minding his own business.  And, unlike the City of Minneapolis—which acknowledged its own failures by firing the officers who killed [George] Floyd and providing some remedy to Mr. Floyd’s family—Aurora, Colorado, continues to deny accountability for killing Elijah McClain, refuses to fire all of the officers who killed Elijah McClain and failed to intervene to stop the outrageous use of force against him, and has provided no remedy to Elijah’s family.

Elijah McClain’s father, LaWayne Mosley, was gratified that the Floyd family has seen some modicum of accountability: “Nothing will bring George Floyd back, just like nothing will bring Elijah back. But I am happy for the family of George Floyd that the officers who killed him have been held accountable.

Aya Gruber

Professor of law at the University of Colorado Boulder, author of Murder, Minority Victims, and Mercy,” a paper on the devaluation of the murder of minority groups and women that was published in 2014 following the 2012 George Zimmerman trial.

Her reaction to the verdict:

I am relieved but not surprised. The evidence, kind of like the president said, was overwhelming, and it would have been a shock if any other verdict had come in. That being said, people of color and Black people are so used to seeing cases like this result in acquittals and nothing changing that even when the eyes of the world were on this trial, and even with the 25 million strong protests, people are still going to be very surprised that the voting was guilty on all counts. 

On the verdict’s impact on racism in the judicial system:

What you saw was the defense attorney using a lot of the same arguments that have been used in many of these radicalized police-killing cases. For example, putting the victim on trial. Making arguments about superhuman strength. Talking about reasonable officers and just how dangerous the world is. And, you know, basically asking the jury not to believe their own eyes. And so the fact that that was refuted—and pretty quickly by the jury—is very significant. I think that it’s going to send the message that victims of police violence are real victims, and the old kind of tricks of sort of demonizing Black men who are victims…I do think [the verdict] sends a message that those tactics may not work any longer. That being said, this case has drawn the attention of millions of people all over the world. That’s not going to be every case. I mean, just a week and a half ago, the officer who shot Jacob Blake was cleared of all wrongdoing. He’s back on the force. So, this isn’t the finish line, it’s the starting shot.

On the verdict’s impact on law enforcement:

After this verdict, I think police officers will understand that the blue wall of silence may not be as strong as it once was. Even if there are approved methods like chokeholds, if they use them gratuitously and abusively, they might not be protected.

Colorado Senator James Coleman

His reaction to the verdict:

Yeah, man. I am shocked. And I know that there are also feelings of relief. But I’m still shocked that the Black community, the Floyd family, and humanity got it right this time. I’m glad that I’m shocked and I’m just grateful for all of the factors in the ecosystem of justice that played a role in the family of George Floyd getting justice today.

On why Chauvin was found guilty:

It’s the way in which we all witnessed this horrific incident. The murder of George Floyd via television, social media, smartphone—the way in which we witnessed it is different. The amount of time it took. While George Floyd was pleading for his life, for him to die from the knee on his neck. I also believe that this time is different because people all across this country, all across Colorado, protested in a way that in my lifetime I personally have never experienced…. During the passage of Senate Bill 217 last year, the windows were open, and even when they were closed we could hear the protesters. And we would stand in solidarity with them, and it was just—we were a part of that, you know.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock 

Hancock’s official statement:

This was the correct verdict. George Floyd received justice today, our community received justice today and the people received justice today. George Floyd’s death sparked a long overdue reckoning on race in our country. This trial, and this guilty verdict, may be just one step toward reconciliation, but it is a powerful moment for the cause of equal justice in our society. We have much work still to do, and that march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge is still far from done, but this is certainly a victory for that mission.

I again call on our faith and community leaders and groups to provide a safe space and outlet for our residents who want to share their thoughts and emotions following this trial, and thank those who have already committed to do so. People need be heard and have a way to process this event, so let’s have those frank conversations, no matter how difficult they may be, and promote our collective healing.

U.S. Representative Jason Crow

Crow’s official statement:

I join the Floyd family and their loved ones in celebrating this verdict, but I know that no verdict can bring back their precious brother, father, and friend. Accountability is no substitution for his life and real justice would be George Floyd being alive today. 

Our communities hurt for George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black men and women who’ve had their lives cut short as a result of a racist system. 

 This pain is bigger than one trial in Minneapolis can heal. We must tackle the systemic racism that is embedded in our criminal justice system, our government, and every facet of our society head-on.

U.S. Representative Diana DeGette

DeGette’s official statement:

What happened to George Floyd should never happen to anyone in this country ever again. Based on the evidence presented at trial, I believe the jury made the right decision in this case. While today’s verdict is a much-needed win in our battle for justice, there is still so much more work that needs to be done to end the violence that too many Black Americans have experienced at the hands of our police. 

 Today’s decision should send a clear message to all those who swear to protect and serve our communities that no one in this county is above the law. My hope is that today’s verdict will be a turning point in our nation’s history and helps bring us together to enact the changes that our country so desperately needs.

Colorado Representative Leslie Herod

This verdict represents accountability. It is not justice. True justice would mean George Floyd was still with us today. That he could hold his loved ones and that the world never had to learn his name. True justice will come when we don’t have to hesitate every time we turn on the news in case another video of state sanctioned murder should flash upon our screen. Today, we stand together and say ‘no more’. We will bring change. We will advance justice. And we will not rest until we end the police brutality that is taking innocent Black and Brown lives in our communities and across our country.

Madi Skahill
Madi Skahill
Madi Skahill is 5280’s former associate digital editor.
Spencer Campbell
Spencer Campbell
Spencer Campbell writes features and edits service packages.
Victoria Carodine
Victoria Carodine
Victoria Carodine is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.