Before the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd was going to be announced on Tuesday, April 20, CSUN Associate Professor Boris Ricks “in an unscientific experiment” asked his political science class of about 20 students — 15 of them either African American of Latino — what they thought the verdict would be.
Of the 20 students, “16 of them didn’t believe [Chauvin] was going to be guilty,” Ricks said.
To the relief of Ricks, and many others throughout the nation and the world, Chauvin — a police officer who infamously kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minn., on May 25, 2020 — was convicted by a 12-member jury of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin is scheduled to be sentenced in eight weeks.
Ricks called the verdict “a ray of hope” and “a notion of justice.” But the professor was not ready to say the verdict would create “change” in America — especially after noting the response from his students.
“The man was found guilty, and there was still an expectation (the decision would cause) unrest,” Ricks said. “When the criminal justice system does what it’s supposed to do — adjudicate a trial with a jury of one’s peers — and yet to the ears and eyes of folks it is still a verdict that is unbelievable, what does that tell you?”
“This is 2021, right? This generation of students was born in the 2000s. And what have they seen? They’ve seen police brutality, an election of a president [Donald Trump] who tacitly endorsed those actions by the police. They’ve seen mass shootings, Black folk treated differently by the criminal justice system than non-Black folk, and Brown folk treated differently by the criminal justice system than non-Brown folk,” Ricks said.
Crystal Jackson, president of the Pacoima Historical Society, said she felt various emotions when she heard the verdict.
“It’s exciting to see some justice finally served. But there’s still more to be done,” she said.
“We have to stay on top of our game, pushing for the George Floyd Justice Act that’s before Congress. We have to contact our Congress people and let them know that this bill needs to pass — we have to keep moving forward. This is our initial step in momentum, but it has to keep going. Otherwise it will just fall back to where it was, in my opinion.”
As news of the verdict spread throughout the Southland and the world, others voiced similar reactions.
Sen. Alex Padilla, who grew up in Pacoima and is the first Latino to represent California in the US Senate, said the verdict “represents the promise of our justice system.” At the same time, he said, “[the] police officers’ disproportionate use of force against people of color” is a stain on the nation.
“The list of Black and Brown Americans killed by law enforcement and denied accountability in court is abhorrently long….And I know that true justice will require work far beyond this verdict,” Padilla said.
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles, said Americans should “abhor” the fact that “communities of color remain at risk at every traffic stop.”
“Our nation must question why police and policing is much more important than the lives of our community members,” Salas said. “We must invest in community and increase accountability for those who violate the human rights of our community members. Congress must step in to address the injustice they perpetrate. Mere reform is not enough to stop the racism that makes killing fields of our communities.”
While the video taken of Floyd’s death by bystander and eventual prosecution witness Darnella Frazier, 17, is credited for being a crucial factor in the guilty verdicts, Jackson also points to the testimony against Chauvin by his fellow Minneapolis police officers as being pivotal.
“The only reason Derek Chauvin was convicted was his own peers condemned his actions,” Jackson said. “I was floored by how much [support there was in opposition of his actions]. They came out and said, ‘this is not how we train, these are not our values, this is not who we are.’ They all came out and said that. So it’s also up to the police to police themselves, and to be honest. Without that, [no officers] get convicted.”
Law enforcement agencies throughout the Southland had entered “a state of readiness” in anticipation of the verdict being announced, there were no reports of trouble.
A group of approximately 75 protesters gathered in the Fairfax district of the city on Tuesday night and knelt in an intersection for more than nine minutes, according to City News Service.
Demonstrators moved into the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue about 9:45 p.m. as Los Angeles police officers in riot gear monitored the crowd. Shortly after the group finished its demonstration and began marching eastward on Beverly Boulevard toward Pan Pacific Park, officers pulled out of the area as the crowd followed them, yelling profanities.
The crowd dispersed a short time later.
There were other, smaller demonstrations. Members of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter stood in front of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s residence calling for the LAPD to be “defunded.” And approximately 60 people gathered at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues — where an uprising occurred in 1992 after LAPD officers were acquitted for the brutal beating of Rodney King.
But this time the response by people was celebratory.
“I do feel a brand new sense of hope. But I’m still leery,” Jackson said. “I know people are cheering and they’re excited. But we still have a ‘Blue Wall’ out there that is programmed to disenfranchise, to bully, to hurt Black and Brown people — and that it’s been there forever.
“Getting rid of that is going to take more than one trial.”