Students, administrator react to Chauvin verdict

While justice was served, there is still a long, long way to go


Photo submitted

A Black Lives Matter protest took place in Downtown Indianapolis last summer.

Ellie Schnur, Reporter

Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin has been found guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd. Those counts included second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after a trial that lasted three weeks.

But for many people, and especially members of the Black community, the waiting period has been much longer. In the aftermath of the verdict, students and an administrator expressed their thoughts. 

Mrs. Jean E. Smith ‘97, director of philanthropic engagement, said, “My initial response was relief. I was at a meeting at school when I heard that the jury was back and the verdict would be read at 5 p.m. I hurried home to be with my family as we all watched the reading of the verdict together. History and statistics show that police officers are rarely prosecuted, much less convicted, for committing violence against civilians and I’m old enough to have lived through Rodney King and the expression of pain and anger that came after those officers were acquitted.

“My relief was not because I felt justice for George Floyd but because a system that, in my opinion, does not hold anyone, let alone police officers, accountable for violence against Black and brown citizens actually did just that in this case.” 

While the trial was still active, many news outlets discussed a conflict that members of the Black community experienced: the struggle between choosing to watch the incriminating footage or not. Though many individuals felt compelled to view it as the right thing to do, some could not bring themselves to endure the graphic images and the emotions that resulted in viewing them.

Smith said, “I have seen the footage. I watched it way too many times last year but I refuse to watch it again. It was traumatizing to me as it was to so many. While I’m grateful for the bravery of Darnella Frazier to record the incident — I certainly don’t think there would have been a conviction without the video — I cannot continue to watch videos of my brothers and sisters being murdered circulating day and night on every news and social media outlet. I cannot imagine the pain George Floyd’s loved ones feel every time the video of his murder, the sound of his anguish in his final moments is played so casually over and over again. That doesn’t sit well with my spirit.”

Senior Whitley Walton, president of the Black Student Union, said, “I have briefly seen the footage. It’s not a comfortable thing to see, which is why I couldn’t bring myself to see the whole thing. It makes me sick to my stomach (and0 tears spring in my eyes. It’s a hard time to be a Black American right now with all this footage available at the public’s disposal.”

Walton, as one of many individuals who decided not to watch the footage in entirety, sympathizes with others who cannot view it and provides some reasoning. “I absolutely understand why some people have avoided watching the footage. Not only is that a Black man, that is someone’s cousin, uncle, father, brother, friend. This is not the first time we have seen a Black person brutally attacked by the police that was caught on camera. Each time I’ve seen it, I don’t hold regret because it’s the truth that needs to be available for others to see. While I’m filled with feelings of anger, sadness and despair, the only thing I regret is that it happened.”

While Smith considers this a victory for the Black community and a step toward justice, she notes that there are still many challenges ahead. Smith said, “I’m hopeful the verdict will be the beginning of more accountability for police violence against civilians. I really am hopeful. But I don’t want this one instance of relief for accountability to overshadow a system that is rooted in the oppression of Black, brown and poor people.

“We shouldn’t feel relief because the system does, in this extremely rare instance, what it proposes to do. I’m hopeful that in the long run this verdict deters bad officers from committing crimes in the first place, that good officers are more inclined to intervene when one of their own is stepping out of line and that ultimately fewer citizens are hurt by the very people paid to protect us.”

There are multiple Black people since George Floyd who have not received justice.”

— Junior Victory Sampson

Junior Victory Sampson shares a similar understanding. “This speaks to a larger structural issue that the American government refuses to address because of their own personal interests. There are multiple Black people since George Floyd who have not received justice, some on the same day as Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict. Until the problem is addressed at the root, there will be no significant change.”

Walton, too, said, “When I heard the verdict, one of my family members came into my room and hugged me while crying. It was a bittersweet moment because she wasn’t crying tears of joy. They were of sadness and relief. George Floyd didn’t come on this earth wanting to be a martyr. No one wants to celebrate losing a loved one. While this is the first time I’ve seen real justice for cases of police brutality, this is only the first step. The police officers who killed Breonna Taylor, Ma’Khia Bryant, and countless others need to be held accountable. Unless our police system becomes reformed, there will continue to be many more cases like this.”

Moving forward, it is important to understand that justice is not a finite entity.

Walton said, “The best way to be an ally to the Black community is by having the difficult conversations with your friends and family.  Create change and ripples in your own communities. Show outward support for the Black Lives Matter movement, educate yourself and others, and strive to be anti-racist. As well, stop supporting racist brands or companies and put money toward Black-owned businesses.”

Smith, urging the same continuation of justice, said, “I will never speak for the Black community collectively but for me and mine — this verdict means the work continues the same way it continued before the verdict was read. When we are still trying to emphasize daily that Black lives matter, it’s hard to see this one instance of accountability as much progress. It’s especially hard when an hour after the verdict was read we received news of the killing of Ma’Khia Bryant.

“While the circumstances are different than the killing of George Floyd, it’s still a reminder that Black folks often live a different reality when it comes to police interaction, and until we can call the police for help and not have a real legitimate fear that the very people that we need help from may kill us, there is more work to do. I continue to pray that this country sees Black people as gifts from God to be treasured and protected like we do other people. Love is the first step. It’s a lot harder to hurt someone you love. I continue to pray that we love each other more intentionally, despite our differences.”