Police reform advocates cite ongoing frustrations, vow to “use this as a stepping stone” toward equality.
It was cause for a brief moment of celebration for activists like Justin Blake when a jury on Tuesday found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd last May.
“We had to take our hat off and celebrate the one second for the Floyd family, that they got anything near to looking like justice,” said Blake, whose nephew Jacob was shot seven times by a Kenosha Police officer last August.
But Blake said the verdict only underscores how much more work must be done to end police brutality and achieve racial equity.
“We just want justice, bro—not just for one family out of thousands that have been harmed,” said. “We want all the Little Jakes and all the George Floyds to be able to walk in their community and know, regardless of their color, regardless of their culture, that they are being treated equally.”
The verdict, while a major victory for people who protest police violence and systemic racism, prompted frustration too, activists and Black Wisconsinites told UpNorthNews following the decision. The Civil Rights movement gained national momentum six decades ago, yet the issues persist. Just 0.04% of officers who have killed someone since 2005 have been convicted of murder.
When Beryle Middleton, a Black man who lives in Eau Claire, heard the Chauvin verdict on Tuesday, he felt a mix of emotions. On the one hand, Middleton felt a sense of satisfaction that Derek Chauvin had been held accountable for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes, but he couldn’t escape the feeling the trial never should have happened.
“This should have been a situation that was handled in a routine way,” Middleton said. “Instead, it turned into a history making event for all the wrong reasons, into something the world was watching. It’s something that never should have happened. But it did, and it shows us that we’re not where we need to be as a nation.”
Tanya McLean, executive director of Leaders of Kenosha, a social justice organization, said she watched the verdict come in while speaking with her mother on the phone.
“I was overjoyed to hear the victory that Chauvin was found guilty on all counts and he’s gonna go to jail for a really long time,” McLean said. “It was just a sense of, finally, finally, someone—a jury of his peers—found that he’s a murderer.”
Leaders of Kenosha group members are not spending much time celebrating, however. The group is organizing a demonstration this weekend in Kenosha to protest that the officer who shot Jacob Blake faced no criminal charges, was not disciplined, and was quietly returned to active duty on March 31.
“The work continues,” McLean said.
When David Carlson heard the verdict, he shouted emphatically, a mix of joy and anger. For Carlson, a regional organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin who lives in Eau Claire, Floyd’s death at the hands of police was personal. He spent part of his childhood in the area where Floyd was killed.
“It was validation, and put wind back in my sails,” Carlson, who is Black, said when asked about his reaction to the verdict. “I feel re-energized to keep doing the work I am doing.”
Carlson said he and other advocates must continue to push for police accountability and make sure people don’t become complacent about race issues in the wake of the Chauvin case. Efforts to address racism must persist, he said, noting the Chauvin decision isn’t enough on its own to overcome a history of racist acts against Black people and others of color in this country.
“There are a lot of obstacles in the way, a system in place that was designed to perpetuate racism,” Carlson said. “We can’t just keep talking about how we need to change things. We need to do more than that. We need to take action and put a system in place that will work against our racist policies.”
Throughout America’s history, the law enforcement system has been stacked against Black people, repeatedly failing to protect them and hold white people and those in authority accountable even when the evidence said otherwise. Too often, Carlson said, people blindly support law enforcement without question, but the guilty verdict against Chauvin shows that is changing.
In a statement, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC), a voter mobilization group in Milwaukee, said “our communities cannot go back to business as usual.”
“To be clear, this is accountability, and not justice,” BLOC said. “A reminder there has still been no justice nor accountability for Breonna Taylor’s murder and the countless other people who have lost their lives at the hands of police.”
The conviction of Chauvin represents a much-needed form of justice after so many previous instances of police beating and killing Black men and not facing consequences, said Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, a UW-Eau Claire professor and activist. She said she hopes that decision marks a new beginning toward a society in which race relations and police accountability are improved.
“[The decision] marks an important moment in which we realized that the good cops are tired of the bad cops, that there is justice in this world,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “But this doesn’t mean we as a society are where we need to be when it comes to race issues. We will use this as a stepping stone to keep pushing, to get to a better place.”