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Criminal Justice

Derek Chauvin Is Guilty — And In LA, It’s Hard To Avoid Comparisons To The Rodney King Case

Demonstrators protest near the Hennepin County Courthouse on April 19, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota as the jury began deliberating in the trial of Derek Chauvin.
(Scott Olson
Getty Images)
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A jury in Minnesota has found a disgraced former Minneapolis police officer guilty on charges that he murdered George Floyd last summer.

On Tuesday, jurors convicted ex-officer Derek Chauvin on all three crimes with which he was charged: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The charges carry possible sentences of anywhere from 10 to 40 years in prison.

"Today’s verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial is a victory for justice, a victory for accountability, and a victory for common sense," Los Angeles City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas said in a statement. "But, despite today’s outcome, our hearts remain heavy for the loved ones of George Floyd who have lost a father, a brother, and a friend."

For many Angelenos, the trial in Minnesota evoked memories of the 1991 beating of Rodney King, the 1992 acquittals of the LAPD officers charged in the incident, and the widespread unrest that followed.

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"Thirty years ago," U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) wrote on Twitter, "The video of [King's] assault shocked the world, but not the jury, who let every single police officer responsible roam free."

"Today," Bass noted, "is different."

Michael J. Fisher, pastor of Greater Zion Church Family in Compton, also drew parallels to the King case — and is relieved the outcome in Minneapolis this time was different.

"I think Los Angeles is reminded [of King]," Fisher said, "and it’s good for us to see what we saw, because it lets us know we’re living in a different culture. We have a ways to go, but it’s different from the '90s. It’s different from that time where it seemed as if we did not matter."

For other Angelenos, the verdict felt like a hollow victory.

"I felt a little flat," said Rev. Zachary Hoover, executive director of the faith-based community organization L.A. Voice. "The bar was so low. It was the most obvious thing in the world. This is what should occur."

"The fact that we feel so relieved right now," said USC law professor Jody David Armour, "I think is an indictment of our business as usual when it comes to criminal justice in this country."

Tamika Butler, former executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, tweeted:

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The Trial

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin poses for a mugshot after being charged in the death of George Floyd.
(Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office
Getty Images)

Chauvin held his knee on Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds while three other Minneapolis police officers stood by and watched.

The case came down to two key issues: Did Chauvin cause Floyd's death? Were Chauvin's actions reasonable? Each charge required a different level of proof relating to Chauvin's state of mind, the Associated Press explains.

Chauvin initially agreed to plead guilty to third-degree murder in a deal that would send him to prison for more than 10 years. But at the last minute, William P. Barr, the attorney general under Donald Trump, rejected the arrangement, reports the New York Times.

This was also the first time a trial in Minnesota has ever been televised.

The trial for the Chauvin's three fellow officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao — are set to begin on Aug. 23. They are charged with aiding and abetting murder. Legal observers have speculated that after today's verdict, they may strike plea deals.

The Verdict In An L.A. Context

Aside from reminders of 1992, the verdict comes at an inflection point for law enforcement in L.A.

"Even as we’re stuggling for justice in the name of George Floyd," said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-L.A., "we know there are many more Derek Chauvins who have to be held accountable and there’s an entire system that needs to be upended."

In July 2020, pressure from groups like BLM-L.A. prompted the city council members to cut the LAPD budget by $150 million — though Abdullah has called those reductions mostly symbolic.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed an $18.7 million effort to shift several key duties away from armed LAPD officers to unarmed specialists. Garcetti envisions that a 911 call about a non-violent mental health emergency would result in "clinicians instead of cops" being dispatched to respond.

"We’ve burdened police officers with responsibilities that they never asked for because of our society’s collective failure to address poverty, health, and racial injustice," Garcetti said in his State of the City Address on Monday.

Garcetti has also called for maintaining — and even increasing slightly — LAPD's budget in the coming fiscal year: "If you want to abolish the police, you’re talking to the wrong mayor."

On Tuesday, Abdullah expressed her frustration with Garcetti.

"He has political ambitions," she told our newsroom's All Things Considered host Nick Roman, "and we’re going to say that until he hears the voice of the people … his political ambitions are going to go unmet."

LAPD is not the only flashpoint.

Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón — a former assistant LAPD chief — reacted to the Chauvin verdict with a string of tweets in which he praised the jury's decision. He also assailed "a criminal justice system that over-criminalizes communities of color and often fails to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct."

Gascón has advocated for shorter prison terms, stopped pursuing penalty sentences and committed to review hundreds of police shootings, as our colleague Frank Stoltze has reported — and, along the way, clashed repeatedly with the organization representing line prosecutors in his office.

L.A. Reactions

Various Los Angeles and California officials and locals responded to the verdict.

Many people, both here and around the United States, pointed out that today's guilty verdicts were accountability, but much more work needs to be done to achieve justice.

Poet Amanda Gorman tweeted:

Our own colleague Austin Cross has shared several reflections about his experience growing up as a Black man in Southern California. His reaction to Chauvin's conviction?

My friends and family were surprised. We should not have been surprised. No reasonable person could have watched former police officer Derek Chauvin kneel on the neck of a man who called out for his mother as he was dying and thought the act was justified.

City councilmember Ridley-Thomas' statement continued:

"Though his life was senselessly cut short, Mr. Floyd’s legacy lives on through our collective work and advocacy to reimagine policing across this country. So, while today’s verdict will not bring George Floyd back, my hope is that his family will know that he has forever changed this nation for the better."

Los Angeles Supervisor Holly Mitchell issued a statement that read, in part:

"Today’s verdict is a powerful reminder that no one is above the law. A jury of Mr. Chauvin’s peers validated the life experience of all of us who attempt to survive our Blackness each and every day... Black Lives Matter and this verdict sends an important message that law enforcement officers must be held accountable when they murder people in our communities...

Our humanity suffers when life is unjustly taken. Public safety that truly serves to protect all of us despite our differences is necessary for our communities to thrive. Our communities in LA County are calling for family support, transparency, and accountability. Today let us honor George Floyd’s life by supporting survivors of police violence, continuing efforts to ensure officers are held accountable for loss of precious life, and investing in care, not cages, for our communities."

Marqueece Harris-Dawson, the L.A. City Councilmember for District 8, urged people to continue pushing for change so killings like these no longer happen.

Councilman Kevin DeLeon, who represents the 14th District, urged people to embrace today's verdict while remembering other situations where justice was not served.

Cartoonist Lalo Alcarez tweet a single-panel image:

Alcarez followed that with another image:

Gov. Gavin Newsom also weighed in:

The official account for the Los Angeles Sparks basketball team released a statement that said, "While a modicum of justice was served with this ruling, it's important to remember that true justice will come when all citizens, regardless of race, gender, or religion, feel safe in their communities and have equitable access to education, healthcare, housing, and economic mobility."

Koreatown-based performance artist and food bank enthusiast Kristina Wong reflected on the acquittal of the police officers who had beaten Rodney King decades ago.

How We Are Covering This Story

We have a team of reporters, editors, and producers following this story. Frank Stoltze and Robert Garrova are covering the law enforcement response. Sharon McNary and Caroline Champlin are gathering reactions from social media. Libby Denkmann is covering the political reaction. Jackie Fortiér and Carla Javier are providing additional coverage. Elina Shatkin and Kyle Stokes are the lead writers on our local digital coverage and Mike Roe is handling the national story.

Corrected April 21, 2021 at 5:25 PM PDT
A previous version of this article noted that the Rodney King beating was in 1992. It was in 1991 — the officers' acquittal was in 1992. We regret the error.
Updated April 20, 2021 at 7:36 PM PDT
Updated with a comment from USC law professor Jody David Armour.
Updated April 20, 2021 at 7:05 PM PDT
Updated throughout with additional reactions and context.
Updated April 20, 2021 at 5:57 PM PDT
Updated throughout with additional reactions and context.
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