White policeman Derek Chauvin was convicted on Tuesday of the murder of George Floyd, a "victory for justice" according to the family of the Black man, whose homicide last year in Minneapolis has become a symbol of police brutality against minorities in the USA.
After three weeks of a high-tension trial in this city in the north of the United States, the 12 jurors of various ethnic origins, who had been deliberating since Monday, concluded that the accused was guilty of the three charges against him.
Already dismissed from the police, the 45-year-old agent, filtering mask on his face, did not show any particular emotion at the wording of the verdict. Immediately handcuffed, he was taken into custody.
Judge Peter Cahill will hand down his sentence in eight weeks. Derek Chauvin faces 12 and a half years in prison but his sentence could be extended if the magistrate concludes that there are aggravating circumstances.
"It is a victory for those who fight for justice against injustice" as well as a "turning point in history", welcomed the lawyer Ben Crump, surrounded by the Floyd family. "We leave Minneapolis knowing America is better."
"We needed a victory in this case, it was very important and we got it," Rodney Floyd, one of George Floyd's brothers, told AFP. “Maybe we'll breathe a little easier now,” he echoed his brother.
Just before dying at the age of 46, George Floyd had repeatedly shouted "I can't breathe", a complaint that has become a global slogan against racism and law enforcement abuses.
In a speech, Joe Biden denounced the racism that "taints" the soul of America. "The guilty verdict will not bring George back" but this decision may be the time for "significant change", he added. The President had earlier phoned the family of George Floyd.
Continue "the fight"
Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, called for this "fight" to continue. "We cannot stop there," he added in a statement.
The announcement of the verdict sparked an explosion of joy among a crowd of 200 people gathered outside the Minneapolis court.
"This year has been such a trauma. From now on, I hope that we can heal our wounds," Amber Young told AFP in the midst of the demonstrators.
Reactions to the verdict came from all walks of America, sporting, artistic or political. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also sent his thoughts to the Floyd family.
In his indictment Monday, after three weeks of sometimes overwhelming testimony, prosecutor Steve Schleicher had insisted on the violence of the act committed by Derek Chauvin, as shown in an amateur video that went around the world.
"It was a murder, the accused is guilty of all three counts and there is no excuse," he said.
The prosecution, which called several witnesses from the police, stressed that this trial was not that of the institution but of an individual having "betrayed" his police oath.
Derek Chauvin's lawyer, Eric Nelson, on the contrary called on the jurors to take into account the context of an arrest which, according to him, had degenerated, with a suspect of an imposing size who resisted four police officers wanting to control him .
The guilty verdict brings relief to many American cities and especially Minneapolis, where tension has been heightened by the recent death of a young black man on the outskirts of the metropolis.
Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old African-American, was killed by a white policewoman during an ordinary traffic stop. His funeral is scheduled for Thursday at a church in the city.
Minneapolis had already set alight after the death of George Floyd, and businesses were once again barricaded behind wooden planks this week as a curfew is in place.
In the federal capital Washington, the authorities put the police on alert. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have each deployed police reinforcements.
For Rodney Floyd, the fight for justice will continue after the announcement of the sentence, while the three other police officers who had participated in the arrest must be tried in August for "complicity".
"They must be tried on the same charges and found guilty of the same charges," he told AFP.