Derek Chauvin verdict ‘a step in the right direction’
Bree Roberts was surrounded by a couple dozen children at the local Boys & Girls Club as she awaited the verdict in former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial on Tuesday afternoon.
After 10 hours of deliberating, the jury found Chauvin guilty on all counts in the death of George Floyd, as his bail was revoked and he was taken into custody on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
“Before the verdict even came out, I obviously was panicking. We’re so used to it going another way that I feel like I’m almost traumatized and can’t even celebrate this the right way,” said Roberts, who is a youth mentor for the club’s after-school program. “I mean, there’s nothing really to celebrate, except for the fact that I feel like things are slowly starting to change.”
Roberts said it was important for the elementary school children she was with to understand the significance of what happened last May, when Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, killing him in Minneapolis as much of the country watched the scene that was captured on camera.
Like many in the community, Tuesday’s verdict filled her with both hope and surprise.
“There are so many situations where you felt like these type of verdicts of guilty on all charges should have come down in other situations, and they didn’t,” said Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory. “So you start doubting the systems.”
Listening to the verdict on the radio in his truck on the way to Tuesday night’s city council meeting, the alderman said the ruling restored “a little bit of faith” in the justice system for him.
“While it’s important to have faith in the future of our own humanity, it should not have taken George Floyd losing his life, Gianna Floyd losing her father, for our hearts and minds to change,” said Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside. “There’s nothing to celebrate, though, as a system that allows this to happen still prevails.”
Without the protests and 11 months of conversations had following Floyd’s death, many feel the verdict in Chauvin’s case would have come down differently.
“It’s going to take time to see whether this means actual change is being realized, or if Derek Chauvin was sacrificed as a form of performative justice,” local activist and community organizer John Keating II said. “We’ve seen Black men and people of color murdered by police while this trial was going on. So, while this is a step in the right direction, and a historic moment, I don’t think it entirely signifies the end of anything that we’ve been fighting for.”
Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow said he was not shocked by the verdict and that Chauvin’s actions went against any training he’s ever been part of.
“There are times you have to use force and it’s always ugly,” he explained. “It doesn’t look good no matter what it is. But when somebody is resisting and you put them on the ground and they’re now controlled by handcuffs and they stop resisting, it’s time to move them on their side or sit them up and avoid things like positional asphyxiation — and you let them breathe.”
Winslow said Springfield PD sent out the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck until he stopped breathing to his local officers. As a way of starting conversations about best practices, training and policies, the department often reviews major incidents involving law enforcement.
Many local activists and state legislators hope to see the community included in more of that dialogue moving forward.
“Let us use this moment to work together to get to a place of true equity and justice for not just a privileged few but for everyone,” Springfield democratic Sen. Doris Turner said.
In February, Gov. JB Pritzker signed House Bill 3653 into law, which adds changes to law enforcement training policies, accountability and transparency. The legislation bans police chokeholds and requires all officers to wear body cameras by 2025.
“In Illinois, we are addressing law enforcement reform, criminal justice reform, economic opportunity, educational equity and health care,” Pritzker said. “We can and must make progress every day until we have a state and a nation and a justice system that truly serve everyone.”
Locally, Ald. Gregory is working on an ordinance that provides the city’s police community review commission with more power, as he looks forward to having conversations with Winslow about implementing more high-pressure training situations for local officers.
The police chief said he is proud of the way the community has come together over the last 11 months and peacefully protested in the wake of Floyd’s murder.
“Obviously, people are hurting,” Winslow said. “The tension you can cut with a knife. I talk about it with the officers. I talk about it with the public. We feel that same tension and pressure. I hope now is the time we can start healing as a community, as a country, as a society and start looking at how we can improve things.”
Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell viewed Tuesday’s ruling as a reason for people to have faith in the justice system, saying the verdict “shows that the criminal justice system works and that we have to trust it.”
Even though the community is seemingly in agreement that the verdict delivered on Tuesday was just, the video of Floyd’s final moments captured on camera last May is something that many say serves as an unforgettable and tragic reminder of how much progress still needs to be made.
“While George Floyd was not the first unarmed Black man to die at the hands of police, his death galvanized Americans in a historic way,” said Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who added that the “verdict must not mark an end to a struggle toward eliminating the systemic problems that have tolerated police misconduct.”
While Roberts viewed the verdict in Chauvin’s murder trial as an important teaching moment for youth at the local Boys & Girls Club, she hopes that continued conversations about race relations and police reform will create a different future for them.
“I see the change,” Roberts said. “It’s very small. And it’s just one case, out of who knows how many. But it sparks some type of hope, at least within my soul to know that people are listening to us in the protests. I genuinely believe that if all those protests didn’t happen, I don’t believe that the verdict would have gone the way that it did.”
SJ-R reporters Steven Spearie and Dean Olsen contributed to this story.