By Andria Y. Carter
Cincinnati Herald Contributor
MINNEAPOLIS – Across America the Black community experienced a sense of relief and believe justice prevailed with the conviction of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. The unanimous jury convicted Chauvin of third-degree murder, second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Blacks in America experienced a range of emotions when the verdict was read with some shouting for joy, some experiencing disbelief, but many felt an overwhelming sense of relief that justice prevailed in the May 2020 murder of George Floyd.
“Justice was served today for the Floyd family, the State of Minnesota and the nation, it was heartening and I hope instructive to see so many active police officers cross the thin blue line to say that Derek Chauvin did was wrong. I hope that gives courage to other officers to speak out when they see injustice among their ranks,” said Rev. Damon Lynch, pastor of New Prospect Church and community activist.
Cincinnati Council Member Jan Michele Lemon Kearney said, “I was relieved and elated when I heard the verdict. I thought about George Floyd’s family — the verdict showed what they already knew: that he matters. George Floyd is gone, and no verdict can bring him back, but today, that Minneapolis jury sent a message that will ring out around the world: Black lives matter.”
Following the verdict, Judge Peter Cahill revoked Chauvin’s bail and he was remanded to Hennepin County Jail until his sentencing in the next eight weeks. Chauvin faces being sentenced from 10 to 25 years for third-degree murder, 10 to 40 years for second-degree murder and 3 to 10 years for manslaughter.
Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac released a statement on Facebook after the verdict was read. “I have said multiple times before that I denounce the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota in May of 2020 by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. I understand the angst that came the days, weeks, and months following the death of Mr. Floyd. As both a black man and a police officer, I too was angry.”
Community activist Iris Roley said she was grateful that jury saw what the rest of America witnessed during the 9-minutes Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck. “I am happy the Floyd family and friend don’t have to suffer another day not knowing if that man will be convicted or not. I am grateful for that,” Roley said.
She noted that Minneapolis Police Department set an example of not surrounding an officer with the “blue wall” when they do wrong. “They stood up against police brutality. They said this is not their training and not what they do. Others need to follow their lead and speak truth to power.”
“This is what they (police departments) need to do. Follow the evidence, follow the truth and understand that Black Lives do matter,” she said.
Rev. Lynch agreed with Roley’s sentiment saying, “while we thank God for this victory we must remember that while the trial was taking place, Daunte Wright was shot by a police officer only miles away from where George Floyd was killed and Army Lt. Joe Gutierrez was maced and dragged out of his car by officers in Virginia. Today we celebrate justice and tomorrow we keep up the fight.”
Rickell Howard Smith, executive director of ULGSO’s Center for Social Justice agrees the fight continues and we need to continue to protect our Black communities.
“We celebrate Chauvin’s conviction because officers are rarely held accountable for killing Black people. Officers improperly using deadly force should be terminated, barred from serving in law enforcement, criminally charged, and convicted. To protect our communities from brutality, we must dismantle the system that allows officers like Chauvin to serve as judge, jury and executioner of Black people. We must focus on preventing police violence because too often the legal system does not serve justice that victims of police brutality deserve,” Howard Smit said.
The Urban League of Southwestern Ohio in its released statement noted the world witnessed Derek Chauvin suffocate George Floyd for over nine minutes. A teenager bystander captured the infamous cellphone video of the killing. During Chauvin’s three-week-long criminal trial, America heard testimony from 38 witnesses—medical experts and police officers, including the Minneapolis police chief-testify that Chauvin’s excessive and unnecessary use of force cause Floyd’s death. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in this place too often, holding our breath and praying that the justice system convicts an officer for their brutality again Black people.
Data conforms that police are more likely to use force against Black people than any other demographic. According to a study released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, police are eight times more likely to point or shoot a gun at Black people. When police kill, they are rarely charged and convicted for their actions. Five thousand people were shot and killed by police since 2015. Of those 5,000 deaths, only 62 officers were charged criminally with murder or manslaughter for those killings-and even less, 19, were convicted.
“This is a step toward justice. We hope this sends a message that we can no longer live in a country where the killings of unarmed Black men and women are done without criminal or moral consequence. Let us be clear, at the center of this, George Floyd was murdered. We should not have a policy change, calls for unity, or police reform at the cost of Black lives. We must remain vigilant to create a culture when we hold those accountable who hate or dehumanize us. Criminal accountability is a prerequisite to begin repairing the relationship between the community and police,” said ULGSO President and CEO Eddie Koen.
Eric Kearney, president and CEO of African American Chamber of Commerce, said, “The Chauvin verdict was a powerful, courageous jury decision, and it will be interesting to see what the sentencing court does with that.
“I do not know if it will have a lasting impact on police, for police procedures have to change throughout the country.”
He added that policing in Cincinnati has improved over the years following the 2001 civil unrest, when unarmed Black man Timothy Thomas was fatally shot by a Cincinnati police officer, thanks to The Collaborative Agreement for police reform and the Refresh of those mandates, as well as vast improvements in police/community relations.”
Comments in response to the verdict both locally and nationally continually implied or used two words, justice and accountability. Even during his press conference, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said he would not call the verdict justice, but upheld accountability of one’s actions.
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said, “By a jury of his own peers, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of what we all gruesomely watched with our own eyes. While nothing can bring back the life of George Floyd, today justice was served. Our nation has much work to do to improve policing, become aware of the bias we all carry and simply be better. Today we moved an inch but we have miles and miles to go in the march toward justice. The life of George Floyd mattered. Black Lives Matter.”
State Senator Cecil Thomas (D-Avondale) said. “This guilty ruling does not return George Floyd to his family. It is justice, but that does not satisfy the pain and sorrow his family and we, as a nation, have felt.
“Today, we saw justice in Minneapolis, but we must still move forward in pushing for bias-free, problem-solving police departments. No one should feel threatened by members of law enforcement who are sworn to protect them. We need to increase the involvement of social workers in 911 response calls and recruit more people of color to cadet programs. We also need to fully staff the Citizen Complaint Authority – and similar organizations across our country – so our communities have a place to keep their police accountable,” Thomas said.
He added, “I would also encourage the Biden Administration’s Department of Justice to use the Cincinnati’s Collaborative Agreement as a national model. Cities should have a document in place that holds the police accountable and gives citizens authority to do as much.
Former Judge Fanon Rucker said, “This verdict provides a measure of justice we have needed for a very long time. The community as whole has been very skeptical about accountability. This verdict provides comfort we are on right path.
“However, I do not think some police change, because many of us believed this case was an “easy one.’ I would hope that bad actors would change their actions. But I still am skeptical about a police change. Every police chief and governor said this is wrong, that this conduct way outside norm, so the bad actor does not consider what he does in the same class,” Rucker said.
“But justice served today. The pursuit of justice exists on a continuum. This is one step along the trail,” he added.
WCPO-Channel 9 News contributed to this report.