The historic guilty verdicts against Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd particularly resonated among Twin Cities activists, who call it the opening round in a struggle to end longstanding police violence inflicted on people of color.
Some said the jury decision that convicted Chauvin on all three murder and manslaughter counts in Hennepin County District Court likely saved the city from destructive riots had he been found not guilty.
Retired Hennepin County Judge LaJune Lange, who is Black, praised the jury decision. "This is the most important case since Dred Scott for Minnesota and the nation," she said. "This is the first time in Minnesota that a jury has valued a Black man when killed in police custody."
Jody Nelson, executive director of Change Inc., a community-building agency in the Twin Cities, said she was hopeful that the decision will open a new chapter for the American judicial system
"Justice has come to the Black community after being denied justice for over 400 years," she said. "Police departments across the country are on notice that the depraved mind has no place in policing."
Corey Byrd, director of Youth and Family Engagement for Change Inc., said that if the jury had not done "the right thing … we would have been on fire. Cities around the country would have burned. By doing the right the thing, [Minnesota] saved humanity. Minnesota is showing the world that we do have humanity, we do believe in life."
"I am now hoping that people celebrate but understand this is still not over in terms of what's happening around the country," said Peter Hayden, founder and CEO of Turning Point, a North Side chemical health agency where Floyd sought addiction treatment. "We still have issues of how other people see us, people of color, including the police," he continued. "All police aren't bad, but because they felt they had to protect each other, that ... caused the problem."
Dave Bicking, a member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, hailed the jury decision, but said he believes that the Minneapolis police and city government bear even more of the guilt than Chauvin "because they created the conditions for this to happen. [They have] a lack of accountability. …. Derek Chauvin was still training these rookie officers as he knelt on George Floyd's neck. We still have the bulk of our work to do because the city has not changed the conditions that led to this."
Monique Cullars-Doty, co-founder of Blacks Live Matter Minnesota and Black Lives Twin Cities Metro, said she had a sense of relief, but that will never bring Floyd back.
"I feel relieved the family got what the judicial system could provide because Black men in Minnesota don't get that," she said. "I … hope that the family can take comfort that Derek Chauvin is off the streets."
Jae Yates, speaking for the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar, said, "We got the verdict that we deserve." He said the focus now shifts to obtaining justice for Daunte Wright, recently shot by Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, as well as pressing the effort "for community control of the police."
Pastor Richard Pittman, president of the St. Paul Roy Wilkins branch of the NAACP, said the world's attention was focused on Minnesota.
"We were waiting to exhale. But now, we can breathe," he said. "George Floyd said, 'I can't breathe' and today, the whole world can breathe a little better because of [the verdict]." He added, "There needs to be policy changes, policing changes, and systemic racism needs to be eradicated out of the criminal justice system."
William C. Jordan Jr., president of the Minnesota/Dakotas Area Conference NAACP, called the verdict a "small victory" but noted that there are other issues be to faced including the trial this summer for three other Minneapolis police officers for their alleged complicity in Floyd's death, along with the campaign for "true police reform."
Rev. James Thomas of Mount Olivet Baptist Church in St. Paul and president of the St. Paul Black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, said it was "about time that we have had a police officer held accountable for the loss of life. So, I am elated. I am happy."
The Rev. Jerry McAfee, minister at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis and a longtime civil rights activist, said he was "relieved but still pained" because of other Black people who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis. "We are grateful without a doubt. People asked me, what will [Attorney General] Keith [Ellison] do, and I always told them, Keith will do what he normally does and put on the best case he can possibly get. …. Mike Freeman was part of that team. And Mike lent his support and his voice because Mike was the first prosecutor to get a conviction of a Minneapolis police officer," referring to the conviction of Mohamed Noor, sentenced in 2019 in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence in the Twin Cities, said she was "grateful that finally, for once, our system has done the right thing and a held a guilty person in law enforcement accountable for wrongdoing against a Black man." But she said there were many other law enforcement officers in Minnesota who have killed Black people "that led up to George Floyd. We need the rest of these officers held accountable for these murders."
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224