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Former Washington Journalist
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A number of Black leaders sounded optimistic notes for the future of the nation following the stunning verdict which found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all charges for killing the unarmed Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minn., last year.
There has been a tremendous outpouring from all Americans — and particularly the Black community — since a Minneapolis jury handed down their verdicts on the white former cop, Chauvin, Tuesday, who now faces decades in prison.
Chauvin’s crime outside a Minneapolis storefront became an iconic flashpoint since it occurred last May, as not only did crowds gather to observe and video record the former cop’s heinous deeds — that Chauvin so aggressively knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd’s life escaped him — but also sparked a national and international protest movement seeking police reforms and racial justice.
A variety of leaders within the Black community have voiced a hopefulness that the Chauvin verdict can signal a turning point towards those reforms and a point of racial justice and healing.
“When we saw policemen — even the chief of police of Minneapolis — get on the stand and testified against a policeman. The reason that was significant I think it was not only critical to the trial and the jury, it was critical to the movement to say that finally the world can say this is not anti-police, this is about police accountability, to where even now policemen could say, ‘Wait the minute, we will break this blue wall of silence,'” said the Rev Al Sharpton, a Black preacher and activist who gave the eulogy at Floyd’s memorial service. “And that’s where I think we can now lead to law and legislative change. Because this will not matter in history if we do not make permanent legal change, legislative change.”
The Chauvin verdict signals a new direction, but only if Americans are willing to work for it, said Van Jones, a Black political commentator who also served for a time in the Obama White House.
“It can be something new. I’ll put it that way: This was not the system working; this was people making the system work. That’s the key. Don’t forget, initially, the police report said, ‘Oh, it’s a medical incident, somebody died, what are we doing?’ The initial charging documents from the local prosecutor were a joke, literally a piece of tissue paper that’s something to sneeze on, nothing,” Jones said. “People rose up and said we’re not going to let this go. The governor stepped, gave that case to Keith Ellison, who is an African-American, Muslim, progressive guy that everybody rallied around before to get in office.
“Keith Ellison put so many resources on the table. You’ve never seen a prosecution like that of anybody. You need to go back to the John Gotti days to make sure that the right thing happened,” Jones added. “So what happened is the voting worked. You can tell the young people, ‘Voting matters. The protesting worked.’ You can tell young people, ‘Marching matters.’ And the truth, the fact that people got involved with their video cameras, they captured [Floyd’s murder], citizen engagement matters. So there’s a formula now that you can begin to show people we can make the system work for change. That’s what’s new.”
To Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), the verdict demonstrates that the United States is finally starting to live up to the kind of nation the Founders promised more than two centuries ago.
“Well, the bottom line is it is a moment of significant change. It’s something we have seen before in this country. You know, John, we are not the America that we should be, but I think yesterday signifies that we are moving in the right direction to become the America that we were created to be,” said Demings, who, too, is Black and a former chief of the Orlando, Fla., Police Department. “What we saw in this case, Number One, an attorney general who understands what justice looks like. Number Two, we had ordinary citizens, bystanders from a 9-year-old girl, a teenager, adults, an off-duty paramedic, and others one by one who came into the courtroom and talked about what they saw and what they witnessed.
“But then we also had law enforcement. The chief of police [in Minneapolis] came in and talked about what Derek Chauvin did was not their policy nor was it their ethics or their values. Derek Chauvin’s manager, the lieutenant, came in and testified and also the training officer saying, ‘That’s not what we teach,'” Demings added. “That’s certainly something that we have not seen before, and so it is a turning point, and I believe it is incumbent on all of us in our respective places to keep the wheels of justice turning.
“We have the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, for example, that has passed the House. Is it perfect? Of course, not. But I do believe it’s a major step in the right direction. And so this is an opportunity for the Senate to do their part in terms of helping us to become the America that we were created to be and pass the legislation,” Demings said.
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