Even as people flocked to downtown Minneapolis to celebrate the guilty verdict in the case of former police officer Derek Chauvin, many of Minnesota’s elected leaders vowed the state’s fight for racial justice wouldn’t end with this case.
"I would not call today's verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration," said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. "But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice, and now the cause of justice is in your hands."
The verdict of guilty on all three counts of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd was a victory in a state that previously sent only one officer to prison for killing someone while on duty — and had never held a white officer criminally liable for killing a Black man.
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“We need true justice,” he said. “That's not one case, that is a social transformation that says that no one's beneath the law, and no one is above it. This verdict reminds us that we must make enduring systemic societal change.”
It was a common theme Tuesday evening, as other elected officials responded to the verdict. Many of Minnesota’s leading Democrats said they'll commit to systematic change that addresses long-running racial disparities.
“This is a good day in Minneapolis. It is a good day in Minnesota, but let me be exceedingly clear. This is Day 1,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. “We've gone through 400 years of injustice, intentional discrimination, Jim Crow, restrictive covenants that run with the land, and all forms of anti-Blackness and structural racism that has impeded our Black community. Now is the time for that change."
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz says he’s willing to fight to make sure that criminal justice changes pass the Legislature and become law. The measures include increasing oversight of police, eliminating officer immunity to being sued for misconduct and limiting officers' authority to stop drivers for minor vehicle equipment violations.
The proposals are opposed by law enforcement groups. But the governor says he’s willing to burn political capital to make sure the bill gets a hearing.
“True justice for George Floyd will come through real systematic change to prevent this from ever happening again, when every member of our community, no matter their race, their religion, their background, is safe, valued and protected,” Walz said.
The state House plans to vote as soon as Wednesday night on a bill making several changes to law enforcement tactics, oversight and transparency.
A Minnesota Senate hearing on police accountability measures is tentatively set for next week with the Legislature’s leading Republican offering no guarantees of action.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Wednesday it’s too soon to commit to any particular changes while citing this week’s guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial.
“As we watched the verdict yesterday I don’t think anybody can say justice wasn’t served," Gazelka said. "So we have a process that works and then we have things we need to be willing to look at as we move forward.”
Walz said the fatal shooting of Wright, 20, by a Brooklyn Center police officer just last week shows how much work is left to do.
‘Will things actually change?’
Some who have been on the front lines of the push for police accountability celebrated the verdict. But they said that without deeper change to law enforcement and the state, this is just one isolated case.
“Sure, we have a guilty verdict. Sure, we have a settlement,” said Johnathon McClellan, president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition. “But will things actually change? Absent any substantive change, a policy, has anything really changed? How long before we're back here fighting for justice for another victim of police violence?"
Attorney and longtime civil rights activist Nekima Levy Armstrong said the verdict is a moment to celebrate. She said it’s a moment to breathe. But that it came about not because of the court system or politicians, but because people pushed for accountability.
“So, step by step by step, the people played a significant role in the outcome of this case,” she said. “If we had sat back and waited for someone else to do it, justice would not be served, and this case would have been swept under the rug, like so many others have been."
Minneapolis, and the state of Minnesota, will be put to the test again this August when the three other former Minneapolis officers charged in George Floyd’s killing go on trial — and criminal charges were filed last week against the Brooklyn Center police officer who shot and killed Wright, whose funeral will be held Thursday.
Who’s who: A look at the key players in the Derek Chauvin trial.
What we know about the jurors: The 12 jurors who reviewed the case include a chemist, a youth volunteer, a cardiac nurse and an IT professional.
Chauvin's lawyer outnumbered, but had help: A handful of attorneys appeared for the prosecution, compared to a single attorney to defend Derek Chauvin.
Legion of Chauvin prosecutors, each with own role: Viewers may have been struck by the array of prosecutors who took turns presenting their case. The choice of who does what was no accident.
George Floyd and his legacy
Remembering George Floyd, the man: Before he became a symbol in the fight for racial justice, friends say George Floyd was a “gentle giant” who sought a fresh start.
Making George Floyd Square: Here’s how the site of George Floyd’s killing — 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis — is being reshaped.
Rescuing the plywood — and memorializing a movement: Two Black women are leading the effort to preserve the murals painted on storefront boards in the Twin Cities.
Calls for change: Here’s what some activists tell MPR News about their experiences with race in Minnesota, why they march and what they hope for the future.
Historic verdict just one step toward ‘true justice,’ Minn. leaders say: Many of Minnesota’s leading Democrats said they'll commit to systematic change that addresses long-running racial disparities. Accountability in George Floyd’s killing, they said, is just the start.
Crowds cheer, celebrate after Chauvin convicted of murder and manslaughter: In downtown Minneapolis and at George Floyd Square, people hugged and wept as they heard the verdicts, drivers blared their horns and demonstrators waved signs.
Tears and relief sweep intersection where George Floyd died: After the verdicts were read, thunderous cheering filled the place where George Floyd was pinned beneath a police officer's knee nearly a year ago, begging for air and his mother. Many people wept. Some sobbed. (The Associated Press)
Crowds across U.S. react with joy, wariness to verdict in Floyd's death: Black Americans cheered, marched, hugged, waved signs and sang jubilantly in the streets. But they also tempered those celebrations with the heavy knowledge that Derek Chauvin's conviction was just a first, tiny step on the long road to address centuries of racist policing in a nation founded on slavery. (The Associated Press)
'We're all so relieved,' Biden tells Floyd family after verdict: The president said he hoped the verdict would give momentum to congressional police reform efforts. (The Associated Press)
Where the Chauvin verdict fits in the recent history of high-profile police killings: The guilty verdicts were far from guaranteed, as convictions of police officers are historically rare. (NPR)
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