Keith Ellison, a Democrat, was asked by 60 Minutes host Scott Pelley of CBS what he thought when he “first heard the word ‘guilty’”.
“Gratitude. Humility. Followed by a certain sense of, I’ll say, satisfaction,” Mr Ellison said. “It’s what we were aiming for the whole time. I spent 16 years as a criminal defence lawyer. So, I will admit, I felt a little bad for the defendant. I think he deserved to be convicted. But he’s a human being.”
Mr Pelley said he didn’t expect to hear a “note of compassion” for Chauvin from Mr Ellison.
“I’m not in any way wavering from my responsibility,” the Minnesota attorney general said. “But I hope we never forget that people who are defendants in our criminal justice system, that they’re human beings. They’re people. I mean, George Floyd was a human being. And so I’m not going to ever forget that everybody in this process is a person.”
When asked if the murder was a hate crime, Mr Ellison said: “I wouldn’t call it that because hate crimes are crimes where there’s an explicit motive and of bias. We don’t have any evidence that Derek Chauvin factored in George Floyd’s race as he did what he did.”
Ellison added: “We only charge those crimes that we had evidence that we could put in front of a jury to prove. If we’d had a witness that told us that Derek Chauvin made a racial reference, we might have charged him with a hate crime. But I would have needed a witness to say that on the stand. We didn’t have it. So we didn’t do it.”
Mr Pelley responded: “The whole world sees this as a white officer killing a black man because he is black. And you’re telling me that there’s no evidence to support that?”
“In our society, there is a social norm that killing certain kinds of people is more tolerable than other kinds of people,” Mr Ellison said. “In order for us to stop and pay serious attention to this case and be outraged by it, it’s not necessary that Derek Chauvin had a specific racial intent to harm George Floyd.
“The fact is we know that, through housing patterns, through employment, through wealth, through a whole range of other things, so often, people of colour, black people, end up with harsh treatment from law enforcement. And other folks doing the exact same thing just don’t.”
He said that he has “real doubts...that we ever would” know the truth without the videos taken by bystanders.
Pressed on whether he thought Mr Floyd bore any responsibility for what happened on that day, 25 May 2020, Mr Ellison said “no, he doesn’t,” adding: “The fact is that police officers are paid and trained to deal with people who are having problems. And if they’re allowed to use deadly force on people who are just having a bad day, then we’re going to be in a very, very lethal situation.”
He said: “George Floyd was not armed. He never threatened a soul, he never struck out... against anybody. He did everything the officers said, except he had claustrophobia and anxiety and couldn’t bring himself to get in that car. How could Chauvin justify being on him three minutes after he had no pulse? How could he justify not rendering CPR? How can he justify not heeding George Floyd’s 27 requests to be able to breathe? ‘I can’t breathe’ he said 27 times. How can he just ignore that? So I’m hard-pressed to find how George Floyd bears responsibility for what happened here.”
Chauvin, 45, will be sentenced in mid-June. He faces a maximum of 40 years in prison..
“I think it is important for the court to not go light or heavy,” Mr Ellison said. “I don’t know if it’s right for a judge to send a message through a sentence because the sentence should be tailored to the offence, tailored to the circumstances of the case. Look, the state never wanted revenge against Derek Chauvin. We just wanted accountability.”