Shortly after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murdering George Floyd, close to 200 people gathered outside Barclays Center to express relief that justice was served.
Yet the crowd, which paled in comparison to the thousands who flooded the streets last spring following Floyd’s murder, acknowledged that the fight for systemic change must continue.
“Maybe this is the first step,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “But today, I think it’s okay to breathe a little relief.”
Chauvin was recorded last May, in a viral video, holding his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during a traffic stop; Floyd later died of injuries sustained in the encounter.
Floyd’s death, and the shocking nature of the video, set off a wave of protests and demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality across the country, and in Brooklyn. Chauvin was charged April 20 with murder in the second- and third-degree and manslaughter, for which he faces up to 40 years in prison for the top charge.
Williams said that he was concerned and stressed from the moment he woke up until he heard the verdict. He admitted that even though he was relieved, he had a hard time celebrating because many victims of police brutality don’t receive the same justice for their loved ones.
“We got a lot more work to do,” he said. “And tomorrow, hopefully, I see you again at the table.”
Jay Walker, an activist with the political action groups Rise and Resist and Gays Against Guns, had his doubts that Floyd’s family would see justice and thought Chauvin would only be convicted of manslaughter.
But when he heard that the former cop was convicted on all three counts, Walker said he had a glimmer of hope in the justice system for the first time in his life.
“We lived through Rodney King, we lived through Eleanor Bumpurs, we lived through so many murders of my people, year in and year out long before there were cell phones to catch any of this on video,” he said. “We finally have a moment where someone is being held accountable for killing a Black person for no reason. … We can taste some justice that we can feel down to our very core. And tomorrow we get back to work.”
Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander reflected that it was remarkable that even though Floyd’s murder was recorded, people still had felt anxious about the outcome of the trial because too many times, police officers are not held responsible.
Still, the candidate for comptroller said, “We are a long way from justice, because there are so many more names to say, just from the time of George Floyd’s killing. We were out here last year, saying Breonna Taylor’s name, and now Daunte Wright’s name and Adam Toledo’s name.”
Once words were exchanged at Barclays — which has been dubbed Brooklyn’s “accidental town square” because of its popularity during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests — demonstrators hit the pavement, eventually making their way to the Manhattan Bridge.
For nearly a year since Floyd’s killing, protesters have taken to the streets of Brooklyn and beyond to denounce acts of racism and police brutality across the country. Just last week, Brooklynites met at the Fort Greene arena to call for justice for Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot during a routine traffic stop just a few miles from where Chauvin’s trial was taking place.
“We’re here to say enough is enough,” Crown Heights resident Stewart Mitchell told Brooklyn Paper ahead of a memorial bike ride organized by Riders for Black Lives. “How long can they let this happen?”
Since 2015, police officers have fatally shot at least 135 unarmed Black people nationwide, according to an NPR investigation.
Additional reporting by Meaghan McGoldrick, Caroline Ourso, and Robert Pozarycki