On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. Chauvin faces up to 10 years for second-degree manslaughter, up to 25 years for third-degree murder, and up to 40 years for second-degree murder. The verdict comes after the viral video of Chauvin murdering Floyd sparked a year of worldwide protest. Protesters advocated for justice for Floyd and accountability for Chauvin. Steven Jones ‘87, Director of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies and Dean of Professional Development, spoke with The Bachelor about the impact of George Floyd’s death and Chauvin’s conviction.
“As someone who was pulled over in July 2020, the impact of the George Floyd murder allowed me to have a different perspective that day. I had been taught all the precautions to take when pulled over, but at that moment, I understood why stops sometimes go wrong. The fear of the unknown can be daunting.” Jones said. “Hearing the word Guilty on all three counts, as charged, allowed me to exhale. In so many cases, this has not been the outcome, and frustrated, hurt and upset people take to the streets to vent their anger.”
Dr. Timothy Lake, Associate Professor of English and Professor of this semester’s Black Lives Matter course, shared this sense of relief.
“Thank God, they got it right this time,” Dr. Lake said, describing his immediate reaction to the guilty verdict. He said the verdict gives him hope for new possibilities in America. “This sparks a kind of hope of the possibility of equality, fair treatment, and justice can happen in America.”
Jonathan Coleman ‘22, Chairman of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies, said of the verdict, “As a Black man in America, the verdict gives me hope, but only just a little bit. I say that because this case is almost an anomaly when you look at how many other cases have the same storyline but go the complete opposite way than that of the Floyd-Chauvin case.”
Coleman stressed that the Chauvin verdict does not solve the problem of police brutality in America.
“I mean the day of the verdict, there was a Black man gunned down about 10 miles from where the Chauvin trial was taking place. The same week there was a 16-year-old girl shot four times in the chest.”
Here, Coleman references the killings of Daunte Wright and Ma’Khia Bryant by police officers. Minnesota police officer Kim Potter shot and killed Wright on April 11, 2021. On April 14, she was charged with seconddegree manslaughter. Officer Nicholas Reardon killed Bryant with four shots into her chest on April 20, 2021, about 30 minutes before officer Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd.
Dr. Lake says he feels the Chauvin verdict plays a role in maintaining the status quo. “These little measures of hope just keep the system going. There is this little piece inside of me that says these little things just keep the system as it is, and we won’t get any wholesale correction or anything like that. We’ll just get reform.”
Dr. Sabrina Thomas, Assistant Professor of History, spoke about what should come next for America.
“Constant acknowledgment that racial inequality, bias, and violence against black and brown Americans and support to reform policing should be the next step,” Dr. Thomas said. “Understanding that Floyd’s murder was not just the act of one ‘bad apple’ but a system across the nation that clearly undervalues black and brown and trans lives is critical.”
Coleman spoke with cautious optimism about the future. “I have hope, but I’m still in between pessimism and optimism because one case won’t change the whole culture of policing. That starts in police departments and every individual that wakes up each day and puts on their gun and badge,” he said.
“I believe we need police departments but that their recruiting and training is failing the officers and hurting their ability to protect and serve. How on earth are we okay that our law enforcement is killing American citizens? It just blows my mind,” Dr. Thomas said, emphasizing the need for reform in law enforcement. “This should not be a momentary response but a deep and thorough reconsideration of the purpose, the tools, the goals, and the desired outcomes of policing in every specific scenario.”
Coleman expressed feelings of fear of some people’s reactions to the verdict. “[The verdict] gives me fear because some White folk and police officers in general still haven’t gotten the message.”
Dr. Thomas asserted that the nation has work to do to address these biases. “The nation must also do some selfreflection on racism and other isms— on who we are and who we want to be. All of us have to get uncomfortable in recognizing our own biases and flaws and then working to address them so that we can do our jobs (all of our jobs) fairly. We must become familiar with empathy and trust that when one of us says “stop killing us” that we recognize there is an issue and that we address it. Pointing fingers, getting defensive or angry because you think someone is calling you a racist – those sorts of responses are not helpful. Critical thinking requires self-reflection, and that is so important right now.”
Dr. Lake said that to address institutionalized racism, systems in America must begin again.
“We have to begin again. With the criminal justice system, the system of policing, police authority, the racial wealth gap, the shrinking middle class, the whole thing has to come down, and we have to begin again. That is my hope.”
Whether or not the Chauvin verdict will be an inflection point in American history remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the Black community is cautiously optimistic that it will usher in a new day of accountability and justice.