A sense of justice’s triumph echoed across the country shortly after a jury in Minneapolis convicted Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s death. To some, however, that feeling was tempered by the simple fact that Floyd should have been alive today.
The conviction of the former Minneapolis police officer quickly emerged as a complicated moment in America’s long history of racial injustice. While some shared tears of joy and saw it as a result of last year’s unprecedented protests, others saw little reason to celebrate or evidence of systemic change.
“Accountability is exactly what we have gotten,” Tera Brown, one of Floyd’s cousins, told CNN on Wednesday. “It sends a message but we also need to have the laws change.”
Floyd’s murder reignited the fight to end police brutality against people of color, and prompted people to march in large and small cities, in what some have called the largest protest movement in US history. But Floyd wasn’t the first Black person to be killed in an encounter with police in the US, or in Minnesota.
Hours after the verdict, President Joe Biden said that Black men have been treated as less than human “throughout the course of our history” and that the country should not turn away from issues of systemic racism.
“Nothing can ever bring their brother, their father back. But, this can be a giant step forward in the march towards justice in America,” the President said.
Phillip Atiba Goff, founder and CEO of the Center for Policing Equity, sees Chauvin’s conviction as both necessary and insufficient.
“Holding one murderer accountable does not deliver justice for George Floyd and other victims of state-sponsored violence; only holding ourselves accountable for creating and maintaining the system that enabled Chauvin can bring us any closer,” Goff said.
Instead of responding to more incidents of police violence, the country should “work toward systems worthy of public trust,” he said.
The push for police reform continues
The deaths of many Black people could have been avoided if the nation turned its focus toward curtailing bias in law enforcement, some activists and the Floyd family have said.
For months, they have worked with lawmakers to push for the passing of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The legislation would set up a national registry of police misconduct to stop officers from evading the consequences of their actions by moving to another jurisdiction. It would ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels, and it would overhaul qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that critics say shields law enforcement from accountability.
The bill would “save lives by banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants” and would mandate that “deadly force be used only as a last resort,” according to the legislation’s fact sheet.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday that Chauvin’s conviction should not be mistakenly seen “as evidence that the persistent problem of police misconduct has been solved, or that the divide between law enforcement and so many of the communities they serve has been bridged.”
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has already passed the US House of Representatives. It now needs a debate and a vote in the US Senate.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department has launched a federal civil probe into policing practices in Minneapolis, saying the verdict in Chauvin’s case does not address potential systemic policing issues in the city.
Garland said the investigation will look into whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in “discriminatory conduct” and will look at the department’s policies and training as well as use-of-force investigations.
‘So many of us didn’t get victories’
Some of those who have lost loved ones in police confrontations welcomed Chauvin’s conviction, but said that all families “need a victory.”
“We have so many of us that didn’t get victories so we have to work on that, and we have to work on other young men and women not being killed,” said Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner.
Garner, a 43-year-old Black man, died after police officers attempted to arrest him for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally in New York in 2014. His death occurred three weeks before the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and was one of the final straws leading to a surge in calls for police accountability and propelling the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of the national consciousness.
“Who wants their name known after they’re dead? We need to do something now. We don’t want another casualty,” she added.
Since her fiance was killed by police in St. Paul, Minnesota, more than 11 years ago, Toshira Garraway has led a support group for those who lost loved ones in encounters with law enforcement.
She said that even though the names of other victims of police violence in Minnesota may not be known around the world or their last moments alive shown on social media, that does not mean they don’t deserve justice.
Their families may have unsuccessfully pushed for the officers to be charged, fought for civil settlements or simply struggled to get details about the incidents.
Tensions were already high in the Twin Cities before Chauvin’s verdict when another Black man, Daunte Wright, was killed by police, about 10 miles from the very place where Floyd was killed. The sense of triumph and relief felt after the verdict will now be directed at calls to action at Wright’s funeral on Thursday.
For civil rights activist, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Wright’s shooting is proof that “the killing continues.”
“We must break the backbone of legal lynching forever. Police killing people is getting away with legal lynching,” Jackson said on Tuesday. “We still have a lot of work to do, this is a first down, not a touchdown.”
About 30 minutes before Chauvin’s verdict was delivered, a police officer shot and killed a Black teenager in Columbus, Ohio. The girl was attempting to cut two females with a knife, according to officials and body camera footage shown to the media.
“As we breathed a collective sigh of relief today, a community in Columbus felt the sting of another police shooting,” Floyd family attorney Ben Crump tweeted.
A ‘big step’ towards justice for Black America
While many have said that more needs to be done to address police violence, one of the people who witnessed Floyd’s final moments said he hopes more people begin to realize what Black people face in the US.
“This is a big accomplishment and a big step to getting justice for Black America,” said Donald Wynn Williams II.
Williams, who testified at Chauvin’s trial, said that his children were his motivation to speak up. “I want them to be able to be understood as a Black human being in America,” Williams said. “I want them to be able to have justice if their rights are being broken.”
The verdict in Chauvin’s trial will impact the way Black parents speak about police brutality with their children. It is a chance to give them “some semblance of safety,” CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates said.
“Now, we at least have some way of showing them what a just society could look like — the idea of what justice looks like,” Coates said.