"Accountability...is the first step to justice"
Attorney General Ellison's remarks after the verdict in State v. Derek Chauvin, as prepared for delivery
April 20, 2021
Since the investigation and prosecution began last May, everyone involved has pursued one goal — justice. We pursued justice wherever it led.
When I became the lead prosecutor for this case, I asked for time and patience to review the facts, gather evidence, and prosecute the murder of George Floyd to the fullest extent the law allowed. I want to thank the community for giving us that time and allowing us to do our work.
That long, hard, painstaking work has culminated in today.
I would not call today’s verdict justice, because justice implies restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step to justice.
Now the cause of justice is in your hands.
George Floyd mattered. He was loved by his family and his friends. His death shocked the conscience of our community, our country, and the world. He was loved by his family and friends. But that isn’t why he mattered — he mattered because he was human. And there are no throwaway humans. There are no throwaway people.
The people who stopped and raised their voices on May 25, 2020 were a bouquet of humanity: young and old, men and women, black and white. A man from the neighborhood walking to get a drink. A child going to buy a snack. An off-duty firefighter on her way to a community garden. Brave young women who pressed “record” on their phones.
Why did they stop? They didn’t know George Floyd. They didn’t know he had a beautiful family. They didn’t know he had been a great athlete. They didn’t know he was a proud father or that he had people in his life who loved him.
They stopped and raised their voices and challenged authority because they saw his humanity and they knew in their hearts there are no throwaway people. And they stopped and raised their voices because they knew what they were seeing was wrong.
And they were right.
These community members — this bouquet of humanity — did it again at this trial. They performed simple, yet profound, acts of courage. They told the world the truth of what they saw.
They were vindicated by the chief of police, by Minneapolis’ longest-serving police officer, and by many other police officers who testified that what they saw — and what we all saw — was wrong. It was wrong.
We owe them our gratitude for fulfilling their civic duties and for their courage in telling the truth.
To the countless people in Minnesota and across the United States who joined them in peacefully demanding justice for George Floyd, thank you. In the coming days, more may seek to express themselves again through petition and protest. I urge everyone to honor the legacy of George Floyd by doing so calmly, legally, and peacefully. And I urge everyone to continue the journey to transformation and justice.
It’s in your hands.
I also want to address the Floyd family.
Over the last year, the family of George Floyd had to relive again and again the worst day of their lives. I am profoundly grateful to them for giving us the time we needed to prosecute this case. They have shown the world what grace, class, and courage look like. Although a verdict alone cannot end their pain, I hope it’s another step on the long path toward healing for them. There’s no replacing your beloved Perry — or “Floyd” as his friends called him — but he is the one who sparked a worldwide movement, and that’s important.
We owe our thanks to the men and women of the jury who gave many hours of their time and attention to carefully listening to the evidence, weighing the facts, and rendering a verdict. They are regular people from all walks of life who answered the call by serving on this landmark trial. They now deserve to return to their lives. If they ask you to respect their privacy, I request that you do.
I want to also acknowledge the remarkable team that helped us prosecute this case. We put everything we had into this prosecution. We presented a remarkable, historic case. We had the sole burden of proof, and history shows that winning cases like these is hard. I’m proud of every hour and every ounce of effort we put into the case.
I am deeply grateful to these people. Most folks will tell you it’s a bad idea to put together a team of all Michael Jordans. Well, this is a team of all Michael Jordans — every one of them is a superstar — that has worked together selflessly and with dedication and a singularity of purpose like no other.
Although a verdict has been rendered, this is not the end. In the coming weeks, the court will determine sentencing. Later this summer we expect to present our case against the other three defendants in this case to another jury in Hennepin County.
* * * * *
This verdict reminds us how hard it is to make enduring change.
In 1968, the Kerner Commission was formed to investigate the causes of uprisings in cities across America. Dr. Kenneth Clark — the famous African American psychologist who, along with his equally accomplished psychologist wife Mamie contributed compelling research to the Brown v. Board of Education case — testified at the Kerner Commission. He said:
“I read that report … of the 1919 riot in Chicago, and it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ’35, the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ’43, the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts riot….
“I must again in candor say to you members of this Commission — it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland — with the same moving picture re-shown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.”
Here we are in 2021, still addressing the same problem. Since Dr. Clark testified, we have seen Rodney King. Abner Louima. Oscar Grant. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Freddie Gray. Sandra Bland. Philando Castile. Laquan McDonald. Stephon Clark. Atatiana Jefferson. Anton Black. Breonna Taylor.
And now Daunte Wright. Adam Toledo.
It did not need to get to this point. There are far too many more names. Each is painful to name.
This verdict reminds us that we must make enduring change.
More than a year ago, months before George Floyd was murdered, Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and I released the recommendations of our working group on reducing deadly-force encounters with law enforcement. What all of us in that working group, including law enforcement, wanted was for everyone to go home safe. Anytime someone doesn’t, everyone’s lives are changed forever.
We need to use this verdict as an inflection point. What if we just prevented this problem instead? We don’t want any more community members dying at the hands of law enforcement and their families’ lives ruined.
We don’t want any more law enforcement members having to face criminal charges and their families’ lives ruined.
We don’t want any more communities torn apart.
One way to prevent it is to get into a new relationship where we as a society reexamine use of force and our old, settled assumptions. I’m proud of Chief Arradondo and the Minneapolis police officers who by their testimony said, “Enough is enough.”
Another way to prevent it is by acknowledging and lifting up everyone’s humanity — helping communities heal and officers be well.
Another way to prevent it is with accountability. Passing laws and instituting policies and training is important — but they must be more than just words on paper and there must be accountability for violating them. With this verdict, we have brought accountability.
Finally, this verdict reminds us never to give up hope that we can make enduring change.
Generations of people said slavery could never end. Generations said Jim Crow could never end. Generations said women could never be equal to men. Generations said if you were different in any way, you could never be a full and equal part of the American landscape.
Those beliefs are behind us now.
Now it’s in your hands.
Now, the work of our generation is to put unaccountable law enforcement behind us.
It’s time to transform the relationship between community and the people who are sworn to protect them from one that is mistrustful, suspicious, and in some cases, terrifying into one that is empathetic, compassionate, and affirming.
That will benefit everyone — including police officers, who deserve to serve in a profession that is honored, in departments where they don’t have to worry about a Derek Chauvin.
That work is in your hands.
The work of our generation is to put an end the vestiges of Jim Crow and centuries of trauma and finally put racism behind us.
The work of our generation is to say goodbye to old practices that don’t serve any of us anymore, to put them all behind us.
One conviction — even one like this that creates a powerful new opening to shed old practices and reset relationships — can’t by itself transform decades of mistrust and abuse and centuries of trauma.
Securing meaningful, enduring justice for all means using your clearest, loudest, most morally-grounded voice to demand change — the hard, vital change our communities need to live the fullest measure and promise of their lives. People for whom the status quo has worked will tell you that change is a dream best deferred. But that change is there to be made.
Now it’s in your hands.
It’s in the hands of ordinary, everyday people — like Donald Williams and Genevieve Hansen and Christopher Martin and Charles McMillan and all those brave young women — with the courage to stop and witness and raise their voices about injustice.
It’s in the hands of police chiefs and police officers who honor their badges and the trust people put in them every day.
It’s in the hands of prosecutors who are clear that no one is above the law, and no one is beneath the law.
It’s in the hands of elected officials in city halls and state capitols.
It’s in the hands of Congress. We need them to pass the George Floyd Police Accountability Act.
It’s in the hands of neighbors and faith leaders and artists and activists and every member of the beloved community.
Now it’s in your hands.