Nervous crowds awaiting a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin have erupted in jubilation after a jury found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd during an arrest last May.
In George Floyd Square, the traffic intersection named after the 46-year-old black man who died with his neck pinned to the street under Chauvin's knee, throngs of people screamed, cheered and applauded at the news of the guilty verdict.
The square has become a place of pilgrimage and protest since Floyd's death made him the face of a national reckoning with racial injustice and police brutality.
Floyd's dying words, "I can't breathe", were recalled in street demonstrations against his killing that convulsed the United States and the world last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I can breathe," said Lynea Bellfield, a 43-year-old black woman who joined a festive celebration in the square. "It feels like the beginning of something special. I had to bring my grandsons to see it."
A 12-member jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty of all three charges against him - second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter - after hearing three weeks of testimony and deliberating for just over 10 hours. Chauvin was quickly led away from the courtroom in handcuffs after the verdict was read.
The trial outcome brought cheering people to the streets and motorists honking their horns in a number of major US cities, including Washington and New York.
The announcement also brought elation to crowds gathered outside the Hennepin County courthouse where the trial was held.
Tears rolled down the face of Chris Dixon, a 41-year-old black Minneapolis resident, as he took the verdict in.
"I was hoping that we would get justice, and it looks like we did," he said. "I'm just very proud of where I live right now."
Many of those celebrating the verdict said their joy was tempered, however, by the tragedy of Floyd's death and awareness that racial inequality remains deeply embedded in American society.
Protesters outside the courthouse called for a continued focus on the prosecution of another Minnesota police officer, Kimberly Potter, charged with manslaughter after shooting a young black motorist, Daunte Wright, during a traffic stop on April 11.
"Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell," protesters chanted. Some took over the main thoroughfare in front of the courthouse, blocking traffic.
Authorities in Minnesota and elsewhere had braced for the possibility of an outpouring of rage had the jury acquitted Chauvin or deadlocked in a mistrial.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on Monday declared a pre-emptive state of emergency for the Minneapolis metropolitan area and requested security assistance from other states.
Many businesses in Chicago boarded up their windows, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that imposes tougher penalties for people found to have engaged in violent protests.
Reuters and AP