by Luna Reyna and Emerald Staff
On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis officers responded to a call about a counterfeit $20 bill, and instead of first inspecting and collecting the bill in question, officers approached the car of the man accused. In the process of the arrest, Derek Chauvin, a white officer, kneeled on the man’s neck for around 8 minutes while the man being arrested begged for his life.
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
“Mama. Mama. Mama.”
“Mom, I love you. I love you.”
“Tell my kids I love them. I’m dead.”
The man being arrested became unresponsive and had no pulse so a paramedic was called. A full minute and 20 seconds after the paramedic arrived, Officer Chauvin kept his knee on the neck of the man. Fortunately, someone nearby recorded the last moments of this man’s life, or we may never have known his name: George Floyd.
Today, the jury found former Officer Chauvin guilty of all three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin could face up to 75 years in prison.
The murder of George Floyd, caught on camera, sparked protests across the globe and drew attention to a growing movement in Seattle for defunding police and creating stronger police oversight. Months of Black Lives Matter protests across the city and the creation of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest grew in response to the death of Floyd, as well as Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, and others last year.
In response to Tuesday’s verdict, local leaders, activists, and organizations called for reflection and continued action on police accountability.
“This result of the trial against the murderer of George Floyd should make me feel better, but it doesn’t. There is this sense of relief that I wish I could feel but simply cannot when I know that there are thousands of other Black people who have been killed wrongfully at the hands of the police,” a Seattle activist and organizer who asked to be referred to as Ashley told the Emerald by email.
“When I heard the result I was actually shocked. As Black people we are so used to pain and injustice that finding out that they system ‘worked’ for once definitely seemed foreign. Part of me knows that this result is because they don’t want us in the streets protesting again all summer. This result is meant to calm us down, make people forget, make people move on. But we cannot move on whilst the killers of so many other Black people roam free, in a society that calls them ‘heroes.’”
“How can we calm down when children like Kaloni Bolton are killed at the hands of medical racism at 12 years old? How can we calm down when countless Black trans women die each month and are forgotten? Not everyone gets a trial, and we have to remember that. And a trial means nothing when bodies are in the ground and people can’t come back. I worry that the result of this trial will make people feel that racism can be undone, that justice can really be served in a racist system, or that humanity often makes the right decisions. None of that is true. Things have never felt so bleak,” Ashley continued.
“While the jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of all charges, one conviction does not change the 400 years of systemic racism in our country,” Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales said in a press release sent shortly after the verdict was announced. “This was still a needless loss of George Floyd’s life at the hands of a state actor and it must end. On May 25th, we will mark the one year anniversary of George Floyd. Our BIPOC communities deserve radical change. We must continue to center Black and Brown voices and their lived experiences in our policy making to repair the harm.”
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, chair of the Finance and Housing Committee, released a statement as well, saying, “As non-Black people, we don’t really get to say what justice for the Black community looks like. Like many of you, I’ll get to tuck my kid in tonight. As a mom, I cannot stop thinking about the countless Black mothers who won’t get to see their children again. George Floyd called out for his mom. Daunte Wright called out for his mom. To be a mother in a world where you cannot protect your child from the violence of the state is unconscionable. Today’s verdict provides some relief, but I know we still have a long way to go.”
After over a year of protests for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others and against anti-Black police violence, Morales’ press release ended by reminding Seattle’s mayor and chief of police that responding to the trauma of Floyd’s case and the verdict is their First Amendment right. Many incidents of peaceful protests in Seattle over the past year were met with tear gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets and physical violence. “… people are allowed to express righteous anger to bring grievances of injustice in our governmental system,” Morales said in her statement.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant also released an email statement, citing the work of protesters to put pressure on the criminal justice system: “We should be crystal clear that this verdict is entirely due to the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, which became the largest protest movement in American history. It is a testament to the power of mass action with multiracial, working-class solidarity. All credit goes to the rank-and-file activists in the Black Lives Matter movement for this victory, and particularly to the leadership of the youth. My congratulations and solidarity to the 20 million courageous protestors, many of whom faced down tear gas, rubber bullets, police violence, and arrest to demand justice for this racist murder and deeper, systemic change.”
“George Floyd should still be alive today. No verdict can ever replace this precious life that was lost due to Derek Chauvin’s lack of humanity and gross abuse of police power. True justice would be George Floyd being at home with his family today,” said Michele Storms, the executive director of ACLU-WA, in an email message to the Emerald. “Nevertheless, I do breathe a sigh of relief that there will be some measure of accountability in this one case. I hope this will not be unique, but that we will see true accountability in many other cases of unjustified killings by law enforcement. There is so much work to be done to address brutality in policing, especially toward Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color.”
Storms went on to point out that over 100 people have been killed by police in Washington state since I-940 passed. “Meanwhile as a justice worker, as a Black woman, a Black mother in America, I am mindful of the trauma I am experiencing, and that others around me are experiencing,” Storms explained. “While there is much work to do, I will also be taking in this spring sunshine and seeing it as a source of hope. As I look up into the sunshine, I acknowledge the ancestors who fought for freedom and civil rights; as I look up I re-dedicate myself to creating a better and more just future for those who come behind me, those who will call me ancestor. This gives me hope and strength to carry on.”
In related news, the Washington State Senate on Tuesday passed a revised version of SB 5066, which requires police officers to intervene if they see a colleague using excessive force. The bill had previously passed the House and now heads to Gov. Inslee’s desk for signature.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on April 21, 2021 to include quotes from an activist who was involved in the Seattle Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
Luna Reyna is a South King County-based journalist. She is deeply invested in shifting power structures and centering the work and voices of marginalized communities. Whether investigating the impact of environmental racism or immigration, interviewing an artist whose work sheds light on the casualties of war, or covering restorative justice efforts as a self-described “Cannabis Chronic-ler,” her work is in service of liberation and advancing justice.
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