While the family of George Floyd, supporters and civil rights activists celebrated a Minneapolis jury’s decision to convict Derek Chauvin of murder and manslaughter, they insist it’s only a small step toward progress in an unjust policing system.
The announcement of the guilty verdict has renewed calls for police reform, placing increasing pressure on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and for police agencies to reexamine the use of force policies.
People of color, activists say, are still being profiled, brutalized and killed by police officers every day. Some were fatally shot by police even as the Chauvin trial went on, including teenagers Adam Toledo in Chicago and Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio. Another, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, was killed in a Minneapolis suburb just 10 miles from where Floyd died nearly a year ago. On Wednesday, Andrew Brown Jr., 40, was fatally shot by police serving a search warrant in the North Carolina city of Elizabeth City.
The deaths have fueled more protests across the country signaling that the racial reckoning sparked by Floyd’s death is far from over. Civil rights leaders say the outcome of the Chauvin trial was historic but vowed to continue their fight to end police violence in Black and brown communities. They also say they must continue advocating for the growing list of families that still await justice after losing their loved one at the hands of the police.
“This trial is (police) accountability and I think accountability is important,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change. “But 12 jurors can’t actually deliver justice for Black people. It’s going to take millions of people working to undo the incentive structures that allow for violent policing to continue.”
A system ‘built against us’
Floyd’s family and their attorneys on Tuesday expressed relief that Chauvin was convicted of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But in the same speech, they urged federal lawmakers to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act so that police can be held accountable and more families don’t face the same grief they have suffered for the last year.
The bill would overhaul qualified immunity laws for law enforcement, ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement, prohibit no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and establish a national registry of police misconduct maintained by the Department of Justice. It would also ban chokeholds at the federal level and make them a civil rights violation. The act passed the House of Representatives in March but remains held up in the Senate.
“We need change in this broken system,” Brandon Williams, George Floyd’s nephew, said during a news conference following the announcement of the verdict. “It was built to oppress us. It was built against us. Oftentimes we see people who are supposed to protect and serve … they do the total opposite.”
Chris Stewart, an attorney for the Floyd family, said during the news conference that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was a “beautifully written” bill that would protect communities from over-policing.
“The main question is will we let politics divide us?” Stewart said. “Unify and get this bill passed and save people so you don’t have to board up your own cities for situations like this.”
Holding police accountable
But top law enforcement officials and experts say police accountability will take more than federal legislation.
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told CNN that while it’s necessary for Congress to take action, locally elected prosecutors must “use their discretion” to set the standard for holding police accountable and reform the criminal justice system that has allowed police killings of people of color.
Too many Black people have been killed after being targeted for low-level offenses including passing a counterfeit bill, running from law enforcement, failing to put on a turn signal and having air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror, Mosby said.
Nearly a month ago, Mosby announced that her office would not prosecute low-level offenses such as marijuana possession that do not pose a safety risk to the community.
“They’ve been going back and forth about these marijuana laws for three years when we know that it’s been discriminately enforced against poor Black and brown people,” Mosby said. “We know that it’s counterproductive to the limited resources that we have in law enforcement. I will not be complicit in that type of discriminatory enforcement, not on my watch.”
Chauvin’s trial – which many say was unprecedented – has also led to the Justice Department launching a separate federal investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department to determine whether they have created patterns or committed practices of misconduct. Federal officials also have a pending criminal civil rights investigation.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement Wednesday that he called for an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department last June that is still ongoing.
Miriam Krinsky, the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, said the Chauvin conviction sets the bar high for the next prosecution of a police officer charged with killing a person of color. However, Krinsky said that doesn’t mean it will become the norm. Police officers, she said, need to call out misconduct just as they broke the “blue of wall silence” during the trial testimony.
“We have to realize that a single case where accountability resulted, does not mean that accountability will be the rule,” Krinsky said. “Sadly, it more likely will continue to be the exception. We just have to continue to work hard to expand that bandwidth and the ability of prosecutors through logic or resources in putting the right people in leadership positions to get it right. And secondly, we have to realize that a single verdict doesn’t mean that systemic reform has happened and that we can close up shop.”
Verdict was not ‘true justice’
Some activists say Chauvin’s conviction will do nothing to stop police from targeting and killing Black and brown people.
Sandy Hudson, a Los Angeles-based activist for Black Lives Matter and founder of Black Lives Matter Canada, said the guilty verdict was not “true justice” for Black Americans.
Police agencies, she said, need to be defunded, with that money invested into marginalized communities. Hudson said communities also need to create an emergency response service that can respond to people having mental health episodes or drug overdoses without killing them. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, she said, would not accomplish this.
“We cannot keep doing the same things, we cannot keep suggesting the same reforms,” Hudson said. “What we haven’t done is take a look at taking away the power of the police to carry out these acts of terror on Black communities.”