Former police officer Derek Chauvin has pleaded guilty to violating George Floyd’s civil rights, marking the first time he publicly admitted to his role in Floyd’s death. Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, killing him with the excessive use of force in 2019. Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for social justice protests and calls to defund the police across the country. Chauvin also pleaded guilty for violating the civil rights of a 14-year-old juvenile in 2017. “To be held accountable on both levels, on state level and federal level, we believe, sends a very clear message that the deliberate indifference and the denial of constitutional rights of marginalized people of color won’t be tolerated,” says Benjamin Crump, attorney for multiple families of victims of police brutality.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Minnesota, where former police officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal charge of violating George Floyd’s civil rights. Chauvin had previously pleaded not guilty but changed his plea after he was found guilty of Floyd’s murder in a closely watched trial. This was the first time Chauvin publicly admitted to his role in Floyd’s death.
George Floyd’s family held a news conference following Chauvin’s hearing. This is one of Floyd’s brothers, Philonise Floyd, speaking outside the federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota.
PHILONISE FLOYD: We just wanted accountability, because we can never have justice, because we can never get George back. … We can never heal, but we can just be a big family that we always have been. We’ve always been together. The same thing we did with George, we still do it. Just like me, when I want to feel like I’m closer to George, I always eat me a banana mayonnaise sandwich, because that’s something that we did together. And watching sports and different things and praying, I think about George all the time.
AMY GOODMAN: As part of Derek Chauvin’s plea deal, he’ll also plead guilty to violating the civil rights of a Black 14-year-old during his 2017 arrest. Chauvin grabbed the teen by the throat, hit him repeatedly in the head with a flashlight and pressed his knee into the boy’s neck while he was prone, handcuffed and not resisting. The teen, who’s not been identified, was present in the courtroom Wednesday. According to the pool reporter inside court, Philonise Floyd turned to the teen after Chauvin’s hearing and said, quote, “It’s a good day for justice.”
This is George Floyd’s nephew Brandon Williams speaking at the Floyd family news conference Wednesday.
BRANDON WILLIAMS: We were in court with a minor who — he also pled guilty to charges of assaulting him. And after hearing the details of it, that guy is a monster. He should have been arrested in 2017 and had justice in it. Had he been held accountable for what he did in 2017 to that minor, George Floyd would still be here. … He knew what he was doing. He had nine minutes and 29 seconds to understand what he was doing and stop kneeling. He chose not to.
AMY GOODMAN: Derek Chauvin is currently serving a 22-and-a-half-year prison sentence after being convicted on all three counts, including on intentional second-degree murder, for killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds in May 2020. Chauvin was the first white police officer in Minnesota to ever be convicted of killing a Black man.
Well, for more, we’re joined in Orlando, Florida, by civil rights attorney Ben Crump. He’s part of George Floyd’s family’s legal team.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ben Crump. Can you start off by talking about the significance of Chauvin changing his plea to guilty and what this means for him?
BENJAMIN CRUMP: It’s very significant. In fact, everything about the tragic killing of George Floyd and the aftermath as we pursue equal justice in America is historic. The fact that you have a white police officer not only being convicted on the state level for killing a Black man in America, but now you have that officer being convicted based on his plea of guilty on the federal level, it is very landmark as we think about the history of police excessive force on Black people in America. Rarely are they held accountable at all. But to be held accountable on both levels, on state level and federal level, we believe, sends a very clear message that the deliberate indifference and the denial of constitutional rights of marginalized people of color won’t be tolerated. And it is very important that, in George Floyd’s case, this tragedy that was seen by millions upon millions of people all around the world, that the message for our children, for our young people, is that this is unacceptable.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the 17-year-old and how — can you talk about the 17-year-old and how significant it is that if Derek Chauvin had been brought up on charges in 2017, that, as his nephew pointed out, George Floyd would be alive today? What happened to the teenager?
BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, absolutely. This teenager, this 17-year-old Black teenager, was brutalized very similar to George Floyd. This whole notion of putting a knee on the back of a person, on the neck of a person who is not resisting, it is something that we believe the Minneapolis Police Department, and especially union leaders, had condoned. This idea of “killology” is the term they use, Amy, and it was to brutalize people and, in fact, to take control of a person, even if that meant killing them for unjustifiable reasons. It was a culture. It was a mentality. And had they dealt with this with the 17-year-old unidentified Black teenager in 2017, as Brandon Williams, George Floyd’s nephew, said, this police officer who was without morals, without ethics, would have never put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, because he would have already been held accountable for doing a similar act to a 17-year-old kid. And maybe that’s why he was so cool and collected while he sat there with his knee on George Floyd’s neck and his hand in his pocket, because he knew, based on what happened in 2017, nothing was going to happen. And so he had no care about George Floyd’s pleas, saying “I can’t breathe” 28 times.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the other three officers? When are they being tried?
BENJAMIN CRUMP: It is scheduled in late January for their trials to commence. We believe that the plea of Derek Chauvin and the detail, the great detail, that he admitted to in his plea is going to help make sure there’s accountability for those three officers’ role in killing of George Floyd.