Youth and leaders in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems reacted with speed and deep emotion Tuesday to the conviction of Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin for the brutal killing of George Floyd last year — a murder that moved the entire globe to protest racial injustice and police brutality.
“Finally today, one police officer, Derek Chauvin, was held accountable for choking the life out of a father crying out for his mother,” stated the CEO and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, the Rev. Starsky Wilson, who chaired the Ferguson Commission following the 2014 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. “But tomorrow, George Floyd’s young daughter, Gianna, will still wonder if she can trust people sworn to protect her. Her family, friends and neighbors will still face the day in risk of being gunned down because they are going for a jog, picking something up from the store, or hanging air freshener in their car.”
Wilson said Thursday’s verdict “does not constitute justice. Justice would require George Floyd’s return to be able to embrace his child. This jury offered accountability and a sign that transformation of the systems built for justice is possible if we don’t relent.”
The Children’s Defense Fund and other national youth justice leaders were quick to point out that two youth of color have been killed by police since the Chauvin trial began in Minneapolis on March 8. Twenty-year-old Daunte Wright was killed in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 11, and 13-year-old Adam Toledo died in Chicago on March 29. The group pledged to “reimagine public safety in our communities, so our children can play and thrive. Today we mourn. Tonight we dream. Tomorrow, we continue the fight.”
“Jury verdict – Guilty! Whew,” author and former foster youth Angela Quijada-Banks said on her Facebook page. “What a birthday gift to see a smidge of justice for George Floyd and accounts for horrendous actions towards people of color.
#BlackLivesMatter ALL lives are precious and to disregard those with colorful skin is absolutely disgusting and should be met with consequences.”
Quijada-Banks went on to state: “No one should fear for their life every day because of the history of white supremacy and the color of their own skin layered with the continuous PTSD & recounted illogical barbaric situations such as someone kneeing a human being until death! Those equipped in neighborhoods to defend and protect should not be the same one killing the victims without remorse or acknowledgment.”
The Minneapolis jury deliberated for less than 11 hours and returned with a finding of guilt on all three counts: second-degree unintentional murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter and faces up to 40 years in prison.
Floyd died last Memorial Day in front of stunned onlookers who pleaded with Chauvin to get his knee off Floyd’s back, as he lay on the pavement, pinned and handcuffed, outside a neighborhood store where he had allegedly passed a counterfeit $20 bill.
Floyd cried out for his mother and repeatedly begged Chauvin to get off him so he could breathe, but for more than nine minutes, the white police veteran ignored all entreaties for relief. Instead, he calmly kept his knee planted on Floyd’s neck, even after Floyd stopped struggling and appeared to no longer be able to breathe.
A bystander filmed the entire episode with a cellphone, while also pleading with the three other officers to intervene. The video immediately exploded across the internet, sparking global outrage among people of every race and in cities and towns on every continent.
For months, protesters demanded changes to police tactics that ensnare Black people and other people of color in the criminal justice system at rates that far exceed their numbers in the general population. The international protest movement has led to greater accountability and growing public acceptance that systemic racism and white supremacy are deeply embedded in American society.
The protest movement focused new energy on the ongoing effort to reform not just the nation’s juvenile justice system, but its child welfare system that consists of disproportionately high numbers of Black and Native American children.
As youth, officials and advocates for racial justice reacted to the Floyd verdict, emotions were high, and many noted that true justice for Chauvin’s victim will only be served when those systems and others no longer treat people of color differently.
In jurisdictions around the United States, local officials have considered shifting millions of dollars out of generous law enforcement and probation department budgets, and instead spending the money on community and family-based services to keep people out of the criminal justice system altogether.
Ellie Ortiz, a California activist with the Youth Justice Coalition who lost her 14-year-old cousin to police violence nine years ago, said the Chauvin trial was “overwhelming at times.” While Ortiz, 25, said she was surprised at the verdict, she credited worldwide protests last summer in the wake of Floyd’s death as a key factor in the guilty verdict.
“This is a victory for the community and especially for the family of George Floyd,” Ortiz said in an interview with The Imprint. “But even though this seems like the first time that this has happened, the work is very far from over.”
Ortiz and other activists are now working to advance a pair of bills in the California State Legislature that would limit the power of the police. Senate Bill 2, which will be heard next week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would decertify police officers with a history of abuse while Assembly Bill 118 would pilot a program to have community workers respond during crisis situations in lieu of law enforcement officers.
Leaders in the legal field representing children charged with crimes and groups seeking to reform the juvenile justice system released powerfully written statements quickly on Tuesday, revealing how deeply felt the Chauvin trial has been.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of George Floyd and with Black and Brown communities who have long suffered at the hands of law enforcement,” a spokesperson for New York’s Legal Aid Society wrote. The group is one of the nation’s largest and oldest legal aid groups, representing most New York City youth in foster care and in delinquency cases. “While this conviction holds Derek Chauvin accountable for his actions, it does not cure the epidemic of police violence or address the racist systems that perpetuate it.”
Legal Aid attorneys noted that in the name of the slain youth Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo, there is urgent work to be done. “Police in this nation wield far too much power and control in spaces where they simply do not belong. Their bloated budgets drain resources from services needed in communities, and doctrines such as qualified immunity too often shield them from any obligation to pay for the damage they cause. We must fundamentally shift this power and funding to where it is needed the most and repeal qualified immunity laws throughout this country.”
Miriam Krinsky, executive director of a national organization representing progressive prosecutors and those seeking juvenile justice reforms, Fair and Just Prosecution, stated she is “thankful that Derek Chauvin will be held accountable for taking George Floyd’s life.” Yet, she went on, “the fact that there was ever a doubt about conviction in the face of overwhelming evidence is a sad indictment of our criminal legal system. Nor does the outcome in this case in any way diminish the urgent need for systemic change to policing in America.”
The group reports that police kill roughly 1,000 people a year, but only seven officers have been convicted of murder in police shootings since 2005. At least 64 people, half of them people of color, have been killed by the police since the start of the Chauvin trial along, according to Fair and Just Prosecution.
“Accountability in a single case — while critical — is not enough to address this epidemic of lives lost, and reform around the edges also is not enough to do so; we must transform and reimagine how we create public safety,” Krinsky wrote. “It cannot be said that justice was served today because true justice would be George Floyd — and all other victims of police violence — being alive today. We have a moral imperative to continue fighting for change so that we see the end of state-sanctioned violence against all of our communities.”
The Los Angeles-based Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which works to improve the treatment of youthful offenders, sent out a similarly impassioned plea for justice Thursday: “Our hearts are with the family of George Floyd as no decision today will bring his life back. We are grateful that the jury’s decision to convict Derek Chauvin of murder is an acknowledgement that George Floyd’s life mattered and that, in this case, there was legal recourse for families of individuals who are killed by the state.”
The group of California activists, working on the dismantling of the state’s youth prison system and local efforts to decrease the number of incarcerated youth, stated they “look forward to a day where accountability for state violence against our community members is not the exception, but the norm. We continue working toward a world that is safe for all our community members, including those who are over-policed and incarcerated, practices that disproportionately harm people in communities of color.”
Advocates for foster youth were also quick to take to social media, lauding the verdict on behalf of youth who too often move from foster care to the justice system, and who are disproportionately people of color.
Alan Dettlaff, dean of the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston and a leader in the movement to overhaul the child welfare system, tweeted shortly after the verdict: “Justice for George Floyd is a living, breathing George Floyd. Justice is knowing another family will never experience this pain again. Justice is knowing the police will never be able to murder another Black American because we have abolished the systems that make it possible.
Hoang Murphy, a leading advocate for foster youth in Minnesota tweeted: “Justice will only be served if we dismantle the systems that caused #GeorgeFloyd to be murdered and forced our communities to live in fear and doubt.”
Senior reporters Jeremy Loudenback and Michael Fitzgerald; freelancer Chuck Carroll, managing editor Kim Hansel and senior editor John Kelly contributed to this report.