In This Episode
- Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, yesterday, and now faces up to 40 years in prison. The verdict represented a rare moment of accountability in a country where law enforcement officers who kill rarely get convicted. We discuss the verdict, along with reactions from elected officials, activists, and Floyd’s family in Minneapolis.
- And in headlines: drug regulators in the EU approve distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with a warning label, Birmingham, Alabama pardons 15,000 marijuana convictions, and religious leaders in Georgia call for a Home Depot boycott.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, April 21st. I’m Akilah Hughes
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day where we just remembered the courts can sometimes work.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it doesn’t mean our country’s fixed, but it is better than nothing.
Gideon Resnick: Yes. Thank you to the jury.
Akilah Hughes: On today’s show, we’re going to jump straight to the latest with the big news of the day. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been found guilty, guilty, guilty for the death of George Floyd. Here’s Judge Peter Cahill reading the jury’s verdict yesterday.
[clip of Judge Peter Cahill] We, the jury in the above-entitled manner as to count one: unintentional second degree murder while committing a felony, find the defendant guilty. As to count two: third degree murder, perpetrating an eminently dangerous act, find the defendant guilty. As to count three: second degree manslaughter, culpable negligence, creating an unreasonable risk, find the defendant guilty. This verdict degree to this 20th day of April 2021 at 1:45 p.m..
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, the jury reached its decisions relatively swiftly after a three-week trial. They deliberated for only about ten hours in total. Chauvin looked unemotional as the verdict was read. His bail was revoked, and he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs shortly afterwards. And it was all over very quickly.
Akilah Hughes: Right. And there’s another step in the process. You know, he’s guilty, but his punishment is still TBD. So let’s quickly go over when we can expect that sentencing.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So Judge Cahill said that sentencing would be in roughly eight weeks. Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison. And Judge Cahill will be overseeing the sentencing process himself. That’s because he can grant what’s called, quote “upward departure” in which more time is added to Chauvin sentence based on extra aggravating factors. The defense and prosecution will both be arguing for what they think is appropriate. But remember that Derek Chauvin isn’t the only officer on trial for the death of George Floyd. In August, the other three officers who were on the scene are scheduled to be tried as well.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, there have been tons of responses, of course, but let’s zero in for a moment on what Minnesota’s Attorney General, Keith Ellison had to say.
[clip of MN AG Keith Ellison] I would not call today’s verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration, but it is accountability.
Akilah Hughes: Yes. So that refrain was heard all day yesterday. And in terms of how the case got to where it did, it’s very obvious that Ellison played a very significant role.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I mean, for one thing, in June of last year, Ellison’s office took over the prosecution from Hennepin County’s attorney. And he pretty immediately pursued more aggressive charges here, like that second degree murder charge, after protesters had demanded more. And never forget that the initial dispatch from Minneapolis police was simply headlined, quote “man dies after medical incident, during police interaction”—yet another reminder of the skepticism with which we should treat police statements. But it was also crucial that a bystander, Darnella Frazier, who was just 17 at the time, recorded what actually happened and testified during the trial. When we spoke with Ellison last June, he explained how important the community was in this case.
[clip of MN AG Keith Ellison] I very much doubt that I would be having the case now if it weren’t for the public sentiment. I think that part of what explains my role is one, now we got statewide resources. That’s a good thing. But also it may be in the minds of some helped, this may have helped public sentiment and hopefully built some community trust.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, that’s right. There was very little then. I don’t know that there’s so much more now, but it definitely is a step forward.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And President Biden spoke from the White House yesterday, too, about that specific part of this. He said that it took so much to get to this verdict when it shouldn’t have to be this way, while still commending police who testified in the trial against Chauvin.
[clip of President Biden] Let’s also be clear that such a verdict is also much too rare. For so many people, seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors: a brave young woman with a smartphone camera, a crowd that was traumatized, traumatized witnesses, a murder that lasts almost 10 minutes in broad daylight, for ultimately the whole world to see, officers standing up and testifying against a fellow officer instead of just closing ranks, which should be commended. A jury who heard the evidence carried out their civic duty in the midst of an extraordinary moment under extraordinary pressure. For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver a just, just basic accountability,
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it is a shame that you had to have all of those pieces and it wasn’t just a foregone conclusion.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s right. And he and many, many others spoke about passing the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act as well. That federal police reform bill passed the House, but is waiting for its day in the Senate. So that is some of the reaction from officials. But Akilah, let’s talk about the responses from activists, people on the ground and Floyd’s family.
[crowd cheering, clapping]
Akilah Hughes: So those sounds that you’re hearing are the joy and relief of the people gathered outside the Minneapolis courthouse once they heard Chauvin was declared guilty. The community was huddled around cell phones playing the live feed of the verdict. And afterwards there was huge applause, honking and cheers ringing throughout the city for more than an hour. And it wasn’t just in Minneapolis, but also in cities around the world. Just like when we took to the streets this summer, people celebrated a police officer being held accountable and convicted as a murderer. Like over in Chicago, a rogue radio operator broadcast the verdict, reading over police airwaves just to make sure they heard it.
Gideon Resnick: Amazing. A salute to whoever that was.
Akilah Hughes: Yes, honestly heroic. But most importantly, George Floyd’s family finally saw accountability for the tragedy that they endured. Here’s a clip of Floyd’s brother Philonise after the guilty verdicts.
[clip of Philonise Floyd] Today, you have the cameras all around the world to see and show what happened to my brother. It was a motion picture, the world seeing his life being extinguished. And I could do nothing but watch, especially in that courtroom over and over and over again, as my brother was murdered. Times, they’re getting harder every day. Ten miles away from here, Mr. Wright, Daunte Wright. He should still be here. We have to always understand that we have to march, we will have to do this, for life.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s a, it’s just really sad to think about somebody having to watch that happen to their brother, you know. It’s just, I don’t even know what else to say.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s devastating. And, you know, you keep talking about accountability and not justice, which was also this theme that emerged in the many statements that came out following the guilty verdicts.
Akilah Hughes: That’s right. So I know I’ve said on the show before that true justice can’t be served when someone is killed like this by the police. And beyond that, this is a systemic issue. And within that system, we currently have to reckon with the extrajudicial killings of Daunte Wright. Whose funeral is tomorrow. And Adam Toledo, a child. I mean, even yesterday, in the shadow of that major verdict, police in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed a 15-year old black girl. Reports say that she called them for help. So, you know, I guess all the conservatives who like to tweet at all of us that: who you know, who are you going to call when something happens? Probably not the police. Probably not. So we can’t have a conversation about justice when there’s still been no accountability in the deaths of so many in this country by the hands of police officers. And contrary to popular belief, it is not the job of police to kill anyone. It’s their job to bring people in. They’re not the law. It’s their job to uphold the law. And if they can’t do that, they should get a new fucking job. Personally, I’m overjoyed today. This is only the second police officer convicted in the history of the state of Minnesota. And that doesn’t mean that police have never made mistakes. It means that the justice system shielded them from consequences for their actions. You know, us regular citizens don’t have that protection, especially not women, especially not Black men or Black women or trans men or women or gay or bi or undocumented, or most of us in this country. We just don’t get that protection. And people from all of those backgrounds I just mentioned, and a bunch of cool white people, too, marched and voted and demanded change. And I’m just so happy that those actions weren’t in vain. And I’m hopeful that this is a powerful first step of many powerful steps. We need to stop inflating law enforcement budgets. They don’t need tanks. They don’t need to attack our First Amendment rights. We need to root out all the bad apples because the bunch has long been spoiled, and we all need to do what we can. Local elections matter. If you care about justice, you’ll research and vote in your local judge elections. If you care about equality, you’ll call your congressional officials and pressure them to pass meaningful police reform legislation. And if they refuse, you’ll commit to voting them out and telling others to do the same. We have to move forward. It’s 2021. It’s not 1921. It’s not 1821. And we’re not going back. But that’s the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: The European Union’s Drug Regulatory Agency said yesterday that it had found a, quote “possible link” between Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine and extremely rare blood clots, but that the benefits outweigh the risks and the vaccine should still be distributed. And this comes after the vaccine was put on hold in Europe following reports of rare blood clots in the U.S. These were the same cases the U.S. agency examined to make their decision to resume distribution. The safety committee did recommend that a warning be added to the J&J label. And now member states in the EU will be equipped with the information they need and can decide how to move forward. Overall, this process may signal how U.S. regulators will proceed after the CDC and FDA ordered a pause of the J&J vaccine’s use in the U.S..
Akilah Hughes: The long-serving president of Chad was pronounced dead yesterday after sustaining injuries during clashes against rebels. Idriss Deby was leading soldiers on the front lines in their battle against members of a rebel group of army dissidents known as FACT. Deby had been in power for 30 years, and was recently projected to win his controversial 6th term after an election last month. Opposition parties in the country boycotted that election amid accusations that Deby was silencing his opponents with violent crackdowns. FACT had also been ramping up their efforts to oust Deby in the weeks leading up to the election, perpetuating a state of chaos and clashes within the country. Now the country’s military is stepping in and creating a transitional government led by Deby’s brother, who is a general.
Gideon Resnick: The city of Birmingham, Alabama, celebrated 4-20 by getting so high it forgot over 15,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions. The city’s Democratic Mayor, Randall Woodfin, announced that the convictions would be pardoned yesterday, saying that they had unfairly blocked people from getting jobs and providing for their families. Recreational marijuana is not legal in Alabama, but the Alabama House is set to vote on a Republican-backed medical marijuana bill soon. And we at WAD know this is a ‘gateway law’ and based on our experience, a recreational marijuana law shouldn’t be far off.
Akilah Hughes: That’s right. Well, cancel your plans to get lost in a sea of orange shelves while looking for a rare screw that may not even exist. Religious leaders in Georgia are calling for a boycott of Home Depot, following the company’s completely insufficient response to voter suppression laws in the state. Home Depot is based in Georgia and did not speak out against the state’s new anti-democratic voting law, even after statements from much bigger companies like Coca-Cola and Delta. This month, Home Depot said it supports elections that are, quote “accessible, fair and secure” which is another way of saying they support both advocates and opponents of voting rights buying drills at Home Depot. The boycott is backed by the leaders of a thousand majority Black churches. Some Democrats and civil rights groups in Georgia have expressed concerns about boycotts and their potential to impact workers, but leaders behind the Home Depot boycott feel that the risk is worth taking. They see their action as a, quote “warning shot” to other state legislatures that might advance similar laws. Also, just a heads up to other hardware stores I don’t shop at: I’m not necessarily boycotting you, I just don’t really like projects.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, screws are hard to find. It’s, it’s a mess.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I use the Handy app. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, find a rare screw at a non-Home Depot store, and tell your friends to listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just weed pardons like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And we’ll be back tomorrow!
Akilah Hughes: And the day after that. And forever.
Gideon Resnick: You can’t get rid of us even if you want to.
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.
Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon is our assistant producer.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.