“It feels like a new day in America.” That is how one Minneapolis resident described the conviction of Derek Chauvin on Tuesday for the murder of George Floyd.
Communities across the nation had prepared for an acquittal. Tuesday’s guilty verdicts were a relief.
Civil rights activists praised the decision, and so did police chiefs. Politicians on either side of the aisle found rare common ground.
Americans should be glad Chauvin is going to jail. And we must allow this moment in history to be a reminder that justice can be served, but there is still so much more to do. Hours after the verdict, in Columbus, Ohio, police shot and killed a Black teenager.
Floyd’s killing was a trauma for our country, and the trial was often wrenching. And yet the brutality continues.
“We don’t celebrate a man going to jail,” said civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, at a post-verdict news conference with Floyd’s family. “We would have rather George be alive.”
The sentiment was shared by leaders across Vermont.
“We observed a modern-day lynching and we are pleased that it would appear that justice has been served on this case but, make no doubt, the story is far from over. We still need to see official sentencing that reflects the nature of this verdict,” the Vermont branches of the NAACP said in a statement on Tuesday. “The same way a reasonable police officer would never suffocate an unarmed man to death, a reasonable justice system would recognize its roots in white supremacy and end qualified immunity. Police are here to protect, not lynch. We will not rest until all in our community have the right to breathe. The chapter on (Derek) Chauvin may be closed, but the fight for police accountability and respect for Black lives is far from over.”
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch noted, “This verdict is a relief. … George Floyd was publicly murdered on camera for the world to see, and after too many Black men suffering the same fate at the hands of law enforcement, our justice system has finally offered some measure of accountability by holding Officer Chauvin responsible for the murder he committed. … This verdict is an important step for our country as we wrestle with centuries of injustice. But there is so much more work to do in our communities, in the halls of Congress, and in each of our lives to build a society free of bigotry and inequality. We all must commit to do the work, every day.”
Lt. Gov. Molly Gray echoed that sentiment: “This is not the end but the beginning of a long path of police reform, criminal justice reform and collective efforts to root out systemic racism across our country. … I draw hope from the millions of Americans, including the thousands of Vermonters, who have protested, marched and spoken up this past year against systemic racism in our communities and institutions. We cannot stop speaking up and speaking out. It’s up to all of us to continue this work towards justice.”
Attorney General T.J. Donovan, the state’s top law enforcement officer, stated in part, “George Floyd should be alive today. He deserved to be treated with respect and fairness, especially by a member of law enforcement. We must continue to address and combat systemic racism in all spheres of this country, especially within our criminal justice system. And we must listen to and hold up the voices and experiences of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) community.”
Gov. Phil Scott, in his release, stated: “We cannot treat the racism that led to Mr. Floyd’s murder as if it is a single, uncomfortable and rare event. We must acknowledge that, over many generations, systemic racism was built into our social systems, our economic systems and everything in between. … We’re not immune to it in Vermont and it will take our nation and our state years of committed work to achieve real and lasting equality for every American. Let’s use this moment to acknowledge the scope of the challenge and recommit to the work of building an equitable country. This is our obligation as citizens, as we pursue a more perfect union.”
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a former prosecutor, noted, “I know well that officers of the law have the incredibly important and difficult job of keeping our communities safe, but in so doing they cannot be above the law. Murder is murder, and the police badge must never serve as a shield against accountability for those who commit it. … For George Floyd, I hope we all now can take the breath that was denied him, to recommit ourselves to addressing the racial injustices that have plagued our nation for far too long.”
For certain, the verdict does little to rectify systemic racism. It is a tiny step. But the path before us has never been clearer.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., underscored it in his statement: “Our struggle now is about justice — not justice on paper, but real justice in which all Americans live their lives free of oppression. We must boldly root out the cancer of systemic racism and police violence against people of color.”