Hannah Michelle Bussa
While former officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, local leaders have spoken out about the way forward toward justice for the Black community after this step.
Kyla Collins, a Black Studies major at UNO, said that the verdict in the Chauvin trial was a step in the right direction, but the guilty verdict was the bare minimum.
“In no way is this verdict a victory as many other victims of the wrath of racism – both named and nameless within the Black community – did not get any sort of justice or acknowledgment, leaving their families and loved ones no peace and the Black community with yet another scar,” Collins said.
Marcey Yates, the director at Culxr House, echoed this sentiment. He said experiencing the process made him realize what it takes to bring about justice.
“It is extremely exhausting to live through these experiences,” he said. “I felt happy for the family of George Floyd, but it wasn’t a celebration.”
Halley Taylor, the Education Director for ADL-CRC, said she held her breath as she watched the verdict return.
“This was the first time in the history of the state of Minnesota that a white police officer was held accountable in killing a Black man,” Taylor said. “It is very rare for officers to get arrested, prosecuted or convicted for excessive use of force and shootings. But this time, the whole world watched George Floyd’s murder. I felt a moment of relief for the Floyd family to have three guilty counts.”
Taylor said she felt a moment of relief for the justice system to hold Chauvin accountable.
“We know that one case will not dismantle systemic racism or institutional bias, but it is a start,” she said.
Around the same time the verdict was being read in the Chauvin case, police killed a 16-year-old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, in Columbus, Ohio. Taylor said that for her, this didn’t change her reaction to the verdict in the Chauvin case.
“Instead, a harsh reminder to me, a Black biracial woman, of the reality we are facing in this country and what we have faced for centuries,” Taylor said. “A moment of relief, a glimpse of the path towards justice and then a violent and traumatic reminder of the realities of being Black in the United States and the history of policing.”
Bryant was among a group of people killed by police across the nation on the day of the verdict.
Jocelyn Reed, a Black Studies and Theatre major at UNO, said that while these cases are not directly related, she thinks the system protects police officers who commit these acts.
“A lot of the police brutality cases that occur in the U.S. don’t make the mainstream news, and from that pool only a fraction of those victims receive justice,” she said. “I definitely think that it’s an issue that exists at the root of our country, and if we want to see change, if we want Black and brown people to have equal rights and protection under the law, the entire system has to be uprooted and rebuilt. I think the powers that be know that, I think they understand that they’re living on borrowed time, and that scares them.”
Collins said that in order to move forward from this, society has to make change.
“Our society moves forward from this by not only continuing to hold people accountable for their actions, but also focusing our attention on the root of the issue – the system and the institutionalized racism that flows through the veins of this country seeping into the law enforcement,” she said.
She said that change starts through numbers, acknowledging, and action, not just individually, but also nationally.
In the same week as the Chauvin verdict, the Omaha Police Department released the footage of the death of Kenneth Jones.
Yates said that in moving forward, he would like to see stricter policies on police stops and how they handle simple infractions that could be handled without force or death. This applies to Kenneth Jones’ case.
“The police killed that man,” Yates said. “He needs justice. Again, changing policy on pulling vehicles over is important because of targeting.”
Taylor was glad the footage was released to the public, as that had been requested by the public over the last few months. She said that the police should not be killing anyone.
Reed said that many Americans have become desensitized to watching this type of footage and that people will argue that he deserved it. However, police officers are not the judge, jury and executioner in these cases.
“From the footage, you can tell Kenneth is afraid,” Reed said. “He’s visibly shaking, and they cited the fact that he was ‘reaching,’ for something in the back seat as a reason to shoot him four times. It just doesn’t make any sense. From the footage you can tell that those officers went in with an attitude. They drove up on the car with the guns already raised as if the people in the car were guilty of something. It just breaks my heart. I don’t even know what to say.”
“How do we enhance police accountability in the United States?” Taylor asked. “How do we remove law enforcement from structural racism? Our country’s policing and criminal legal systems have targeted and devalued Black, brown, and Indigenous lives for centuries. The issue is much bigger than one traffic stop, one no-knock raid, one police shooting, one department, or one city. It is long past time for our country to tackle systemic racism, reimagine what public safety looks like, and create transformational change to ensure justice and fair treatment for all people. Black Lives Matter, and our society’s laws, practices, and institutions must reflect that.”
In moving toward justice, Culxr House has been a place for activists and community members to gather. At the local level, Culxr House is a critical part of the way forward.
“Culxr House has been central in training, supplies and resources for demonstrations and increasing awareness,” Yates said. “We plan to continue to do so this summer with workshops on organizing and on how to be active in your community.”
Reed said that white people need to be part of this work as well.
“White people need to be more outspoken in their own circles about this kind of stuff,” she said. “Call out microaggressions and violent stereotyping when you see it. Hold your friends and your family accountable. Black people are tired. It’s important to stay updated on these important issues, but it takes a toll on you.”
Reed said that she worries about her father and brothers every day. She worries about her sisters, too – while they don’t get the same kind of coverage, police brutality impacts Black women as well.
“It just starts to feel like I’m fighting a war I can’t win,” she said.
She said she does the things she has been taught, like respecting officers, not drinking, and not doing anything that could tarnish her reputation, because Black people are often villainized in the media.
Taylor said being engaged and learning is important in the way forward.
“To me, the only way we move forward is through education,” she said. “I want our community to understand the importance of self-reflection and responsibility in understanding how our bias, if unchecked, becomes violence.”
Taylor also said she wants the community to pay attention to voting and choose candidates who align with dreams of the future and pay attention to how they plan to fund community initiatives.
“I want our community to become engaged in making effective change, no matter their age,” Taylor said. “Some examples of community engagement include advocating for legislation; attending or supporting local or national protests, writing to elected officials with their concerns; reaching out to family members of the victims; reading and learning more about race, racism and racial justice; organizing a schoolwide information session; and speaking out on social media.”
Reed said: “So, where do we go from here? To hug our families and our friends. To have those conversations, to sign petitions, to march when the situation calls for it. We do what we’ve always done. We survive.”
“Honestly, I don’t know what justice for Blacks in the U.S. looks like,” Yates said. “Hopefully, we as Black people can just have peace and equality.”