Detroit leaders, experts hail guilty verdict for Chauvin
Community leaders in Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan welcomed the guilty verdicts Tuesday against a former Minneapolis police officer in the death of George Floyd, but said they had not reduced the need for police reform.
A jury took less than a day to find Derek Chauvin guilty of second and third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. This was followed by playing a 9 minute video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck last May.
“Justice won,” said Rev. Charles Williams II, president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network. “But we have to ask ourselves: how much longer do we have to follow these police brutality cases on our social media feeds?”
Rev. Horace Sheffield III. Said it was long overdue to get justice on such a straightforward case. “Common sense and eyes told us who did it,” said Sheffield, executive director of the Detroit Association of Black Organizations. “The whole world saw what happened (on the videotape).”
Nearly 40 activists gathered outside the Detroit Police Department headquarters Tuesday in the falling snow to celebrate the verdict and to remember Floyd. The rally was organized by Detroit Will Breathe, who held rallies and demonstrations last year to protest Floyd’s death.
Protesters in Detroit held hand-made signs pointing to Floyd and other African Americans who had died in police encounters in recent years. “Cops lie” and “Stop Police Terror” read two characters. The protesters pondered the moment when passing motorists honked their horns in support.
“We need to make sure what happened is the rule, not the exception,” said Tristan Taylor, co-founder of Detroit Will Breathe.
Taylor said the verdicts were the by-product of a movement and showed the power of the people as protests across the country followed.
“We will mobilize every time the police shoot because we want accountability and justice,” he said.
Sammie Lewis, another Detroit Will Breathe organizer, described the verdict as bittersweet.
“I want to see real justice that only exists in the liberation of black and brown people, that only exists in the destruction of the system that is killing us over and over again,” she said.
Kate Stenvig, an organizer of By Any Means Necessary, described the verdict as the result of months of protests against inequality.
“This is a victory for the new civil rights movement,” said Stenvig.
Detroit’s role in protests
Protests in Detroit against police brutality began on May 29, four days after Floyd’s death. Detroit Will Breathe showed up to lead the Detroit demonstrations, which included nightly marches across the city that remained largely peaceful.
There were intermittent confrontations and rubber bullets were fired and tear gas was used. Detroit Will Breathe alleged in a federal complaint that Detroit officials used excessive force during a protest in August.
But Detroit has avoided the violence and destruction in other cities. Residents, activists, and city officials suggest a variety of reasons Detroit avoided the chaos, including strong police-community relationships.
Demonstrations in Detroit subsided in the fall, but the latest protest came on Saturday when 200 people gathered in Clark Park, southwest of the city, to protest against the death of 20-year-old African American Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota White ex-cop Kim Potter.
Potter allegedly mistook her pistol for her taser and fired a single shot after a body-worn camera showed Wright fighting the officers who tried to arrest him. Potter has been charged with second degree manslaughter.
Detroit Police Chief Craig James Craig said he believed the jury made the correct judgment against Chauvin.
“The justice system worked,” he said. “It was a stain in our job and we had to deal with weeks and months of sometimes violent protests.”
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, a former Detroit police chief, welcomed the verdicts against Chauvin.
He said that too often and for too long people of color, especially black men, were expected to accept police violence as a way of life.
“This ruling makes it clear that police violence is unacceptable. It makes it clear that black lives play a role,” said Evans. “Let us build on this moment of justice that benefits a more just and just society for all.”
Other officials weigh in
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said he watched the decision being made with city hall staff and everyone in the room was torn.
“The criminal justice system worked today. It doesn’t always work, but it worked today and I think it will make a difference, ”Duggan, a former Wayne County attorney, told WJR-AM.
Former Detroit US attorney Barb McQuade agreed that the verdicts will have repercussions.
“A jury made up of colleagues from Derek Chauvin spoke,” said McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “His behavior caused the death of George Floyd, and it was murder that deserves the moral condemnation of society. The speed of the judgment sets an exclamation point for the jury’s guilt decision. “
This is an interesting and important ruling for a number of reasons, said Christian Davenport, professor of political science at the University of Michigan.
“This is an important signal to the people that police violence is not acceptable,” said Davenport.
But Sheffield said he doesn’t think the chauvinist rulings will do “so much” for racial relations in America. The president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network said too many white residents supported white police officers who beat and killed unarmed African Americans.
Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer remembered Floyd’s family when he said in a Facebook message that his “legacy will live on”.
“Last year millions of people around the world spoke with one collective voice when we said Black Lives Matter,” said Whitmer. “Together we will continue to fight the ingrained structural racism and inequality that reside in our institutions and that black Americans face every day.”
US Representative Brenda Lawrence, Michigan’s only African American member of Congress, said the ruling was a relief, “a small step towards accountability” and should renew a “call to action”.
Those measures, Sheffield said, should include reforms that exclude military tactics from policing. “The police forces really need to do something and figure out what to do to do things differently,” he said.
Davenport agreed that there are still a number of issues to be resolved, including what discretionary powers are allowed by the police and what role the courts will play in setting parameters for acceptable behavior.
“This is part of a much bigger problem. We have so many officials, so many departments that need to be assessed,” said Davenport. “This case was so visible that in many ways it was important to send a signal that we should not tolerate state violence in this way and that individuals should be condemned.”
A police officer was held accountable for his actions, but it didn’t necessarily lead to justice, said Jennifer Cobbina, associate professor of criminology at Michigan State University.
“It would have been fair that George Floyd was not murdered,” Cobbina said. “Every day black people worry about being the next George Floyd is another day without justice.”
Tuesday’s ruling was also a moment of reflection for Michigan State Police Colonel Joe Gasper, who said in a statement that everyone in law enforcement “needs to take a hard look in the mirror.”
“The police are the people and the people are the police,” he said. “We have to come together to find ways to bridge the gap. We need each other; there is no other way. This judgment is the beginning; the hard work of reform begins now.”
The authors Kim Kozlowski, George Hunter and Christine Ferretti contributed to this.