TV anchors and commentators reflected much of America Tuesday, tensing up with anticipation of the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial, then exhaling when a jury found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty of all three charges, including murder, in the killing of George Floyd.
“Guilty, guilty, guilty on all three counts. And Officer Chauvin is now headed to jail,” “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell intoned, as the convicted Chauvin was led from the Minneapolis courtroom in handcuffs.
“When the verdict was read our time, we started hearing horns honking. I think you felt jaws dropping,” said “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Gayle King, reporting from Minneapolis.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, second from right, is led out of the courtroom in handcuffs after being convicted in connection with the death of George Floyd. (Photo: Court TV/Handout, USA TODAY NETWORK )
Dread about the possibility of violent protest if Chauvin had been exonerated infused much of the coverage leading up to the verdict. However, anxiety seemed to drain away almost immediately after Judge Peter Cahill read the verdict, returned on the second day of deliberations.
“You could feel that this was a city on edge. All of a sudden now, kind of a collective calm, if you will. Certainly, the potential for riot was there,” said ABC News anchor Linsey Davis, reporting from Minneapolis. “Martin Luther King talked about how a riot is the language of the unheard. So, perhaps today, no riot. Perhaps people are heard.”
In a divided media climate, there was unusual agreement that Chauvin’s conduct was particularly egregious, and that it had been documented by the kind of video evidence not often available in such cases.
Courteney Batya Ross, George Floyd's girlfriend in red, center, stands with friends and supporters outside the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis on April 20 as they wait for the jury's verdict in the trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin. (Photo: Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY)
“Clearly, the verdict is supported by the facts,” said Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, a former judge. She pointed out that “this case was extremely unusual. It’s rare you even get a picture of the victim in a murder case, but here we had a living, breathing person that the jury was able to relate to every day, watching the trauma of what he went through, begging for air, begging to breathe.”
After the verdict was read, TV cameras quickly shifted to gatherings outside the courthouse and in George Floyd Square, where Chauvin kneeled on the dying Floyd last Memorial Day. Correspondents conveyed the relief as the crowds appeared almost festive. Some people prayed; others chanted “Black Lives Matter.”
The mood “went very quickly from anxiety to excitement,” MSNBC correspondent Shaquille Brewster said, reporting from Minneapolis.
“I am so happy, given the alternative, that what you have to cover is a beautiful spring day in the Twin Cities this afternoon, as an exuberant crowd, but certainly a growing and peaceful crowd” gathered, responded MSNBC anchor Brian Williams from New York.
Fox correspondent Mike Tobin, also in Minneapolis, described a similar post-verdict mood in his own way. “You have a very happy crowd and, so far, what I hear from random members of the crowd is they don’t intend to bust up the town tonight.”
A mural of George Floyd is shown at the intersection of 38th St & Chicago Ave. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That's the location where Floyd died while in police custody last Memorial Day. (Photo: Brandon Bell, Getty Images)
Although there was general agreement about Chauvin, unity broke down over the verdict’s relevance in its connection to larger social issues such as racial justice and violent protest.
Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld, a panelist on “The Five,” drew an audible rebuke Pirro and fellow panelist Juan Williams when he said, “I’m glad he was found guilty of all charges, even if he might not be guilty of all charges. I want a verdict that keeps this country from going up in flames.”
“We do not sacrifice individuals for the sake of how people feel,” Pirro responded.
On CNN, contributor Van Jones offered a basic plea – “All we want is for police to obey the law” – but warned against people feeling too satisfied. That came after anchor Anderson Cooper asked if he was worried that people would think nothing more needed to be done to achieve racial justice after the verdict.
“It took too long, too much marching, too many tears” to get to this point, Jones said. “This morning, when you woke up, you were scared to hope. That tells you we need real change.”
“NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt closed his special report asking how the Chauvin trial and verdict might affect the larger culture.
“As we have seen just in recent days and weeks, it has not stopped deadly confrontations between the police and Black men. But tonight, the family of George Floyd has received justice in a Minneapolis courtroom,” he said. “What happens on America’s streets might tell us if there is a deeper reckoning in the tragedy of George Floyd.”
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