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‘We Matter’: Derek Chauvin Verdict Brings Collective Relief
‘We Matter’: Derek Chauvin Verdict Brings Collective Relief avatar

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People across the country reacted with a variety of emotions to the news of the former officer’s conviction on all charges in the killing of George Floyd.

MINNEAPOLIS — Outside the Cup Foods convenience store where George Floyd was killed last May, a woman nearly collapsed in tears upon hearing the guilty verdicts against Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed Mr. Floyd.

“We matter,” she said, straightening up. “We matter.”

In one Minneapolis neighborhood, jubilant residents honked horns and banged pots and pans out their windows. Hundreds of people who were facing the courthouse began pumping their fists in unison as the news whipped through the crowd. “Guilty!” they shouted, and then began to chant: “All three counts! All three counts!”

When Minneapolis heard the verdict in the trial of Mr. Chauvin, it was a moment of catharsis for many in the city, a scene of collective relief and satisfaction that he had been convicted on two murder charges and one manslaughter charge in Mr. Floyd’s death.

The murder trial of Derek Chauvin is at the center of a national reckoning on race and policing. But cycles of protests over systemic racism and policing are not new. We watched the trial with the families of Rodney King, Oscar Grant and Stephon Clark to see this moment in history through their eyes.

Those scenes were echoed, sometimes in quieter ways, across the country, as Americans paused from working, running errands or picking up their children from school to listen as Judge Peter A. Cahill announced the verdict. For some Black Americans in particular, the moment was especially poignant, an affirmation that justice had been served for Mr. Floyd.

The crowd outside the Hennepin County Government Center erupted with joy when the verdict was announced. 
The crowd outside the Hennepin County Government Center erupted with joy when the verdict was announced. Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times

Don Jackson, a 33-year-old tech worker, was leaving work in Chicago’s Loop as the news of Mr. Chauvin’s conviction spread through downtown. “I didn’t have a lot of hope that they would get it right,” he said of the jurors. “But they did.”

In the Old Fourth Ward of Atlanta, a block from Ebenezer Baptist Church, Rema Miller, 49, was sitting outside a cigar store having a celebratory puff.

“I honestly feel some type of relief because we’ve been carrying a lot,” Ms. Miller, a retired counselor, said. “We felt like history was going to repeat itself. He was going to get convicted of the lesser charge. And so we’ve prepared ourselves for that.”

In some cities, people said they could not even bear to watch.

Tifanny Burks, 28, who organized protests last summer with the Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward in South Florida, said her mother texted the news to her about the guilty verdict on Tuesday afternoon.

“This is a sign, a beacon of hope, that we’re heading in the right direction,” said Ms. Burks, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.

But she also said a verdict in a single case still meant only that — one verdict.

“The criminal justice system is really not going to provide accountability and the liberation that we’re looking for,” she said. “We need police departments to be defunded. We need to defund the police department that failed George Floyd.”

In New York, people gathered in Times Square after the verdict. Simbarashe Cha for The New York Times

In some communities, people spoke of relief that the verdict might avert the prospect of civil unrest, which was experienced by many cities in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death last year.

Lucy Putlak, who lives in suburban Highland Park, Ill., and works in Chicago, lamented the way downtown businesses had been boarded up pre-emptively.

“How come every time there’s a trial, we have to worry about riots, and we have this?” she said, pointing to a hovering helicopter. “OK, great, shut up, people. You got what you wanted.”

In New York, the announcement of the verdict was a burden lifted for some. At Washington Square Park in Manhattan, where most people appeared to have been drawn by the warm spring weather, a small crowd yelled “Guilty!” after the verdict was announced. Nearby, flowers ringed a makeshift memorial to Daunte Wright, a Black man who, like Mr. Floyd, was killed during an encounter with police officers in Minnesota.

Several blocks away at Union Square Park, Gurpreet Singh, 46, said he felt elated by the verdict. While nothing could bring Mr. Floyd back, Mr. Singh said, “at least this one wrong has been righted.”

Ceci Munoz celebrated the verdict outside Jack Yates High School in Houston. Annie Mulligan for The New York Times

On the sidewalk in front of the county jail in downtown Portland, Ore., Cyncyrie Cruz, 32, got news of the verdict by way of a phone call from her boyfriend.

“What is it? Tell me,” Ms. Cruz asked as soon as she answered the call. She started pacing, then cheered and put her fist in the air.

But while Ms. Cruz said she was grateful for what she viewed as a step toward accountability, she also did not see the verdict as an end to a larger struggle for racial justice and against police brutality.

She said she was not hopeful that Mr. Chauvin’s sentence, to be set at a later date, would be sufficient.

“This isn’t something that’s just happening in Minneapolis, in Minnesota,” Ms. Cruz said. “This is the entire country.”

For some Americans who had closely followed the trial, the verdict was surprising — different, they said, from what they had come to expect in cases involving the police.

Juan Carmona, the head of the social studies department at Donna High School in Donna, Texas, a town of 16,000 on the border with Mexico, said he had been listening to the trial on the radio. For him, a defining moment had come when the Minneapolis police chief testified for the prosecution, stating clearly that Mr. Chauvin’s actions went against the department’s training.

“That blue wall of silence may be finally cracking,” Mr. Carmona said. “Police officers are like anybody else, and they’re seeing what’s happening in the country.”

In South Los Angeles, a celebration of the verdict broke out at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, a corner that erupted in fire and rage in 1992, after a jury acquitted four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King. It was at that corner that Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, was pulled from his vehicle and beaten amid the Los Angeles riots.

On Tuesday, the location had the feel of a mini-block party: Cars honked their horns and activists waved handwritten signs reading, “Guilty.” A few dozen Black, white and Hispanic men and women waved Black Lives Matter flags and placards as music blared from portable speakers.

As a fire truck passed through the intersection, its driver looked at an activist on the corner and blew her a kiss, prompting a cheer.

“It’s a celebration of the life of George Floyd, it’s a celebration of the verdict and it’s a celebration to understand that the system has finally held accountable people who have been so protected for so long,” said Daymond Johnson, 40, a longtime community activist who is African-American and who stood at the corner holding a megaphone.

Shaila Dewan reported from Minneapolis, and Julie Bosman from Chicago. Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker from Portland, Ore., Campbell Robertson from Pittsburgh, Richard Fausset from Atlanta, Patricia Mazzei from Miami, Simon Romero from Albuquerque, Robert Chiarito from Chicago, Sarah Maslin Nir and Anushka Patil from New York, Manny Fernandez from Los Angeles, Shawn Hubler from Sacramento, and Edgar Sandoval from San Antonio.

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