‘Today, we can breathe’

Community members hope Chauvin verdict will bring changes in relations with police

By Ray Richardson

Contributing Writer

LEIMERT PARK — Relief, surprise, uncertainty and caution.

Community reaction to Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the killing of George Floyd covered a lot of territory in the ongoing quest for fair treatment by police of African Americans and people of color around the country.

“Hopefully, the verdict set a precedent,” said Onyx Burton, 27, an accounting major at Santa Monica City College. “If it happens again, the next judge and jury have something to fall back on. We have a foundation now for change.”

To some, the reality of the verdict hadn’t quite sunk in.

“I need to see what the sentencing will be before this sinks in for me,” said Candace Solomon, owner of Brinberry Barber and Beauty Shop in Leimert Park. “It’s good he got convicted, but I want to see how much time he will get.”

Sentencing for Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, is expected in late June. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in verdicts that were returned April 20.

The jury deliberated about 10 hours in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis before reaching a decision that drew worldwide attention.

At a news conference after Chauvin was convicted, several members of Floyd’s family celebrated the verdict — expressing relief at the outcome — and echoed calls for police reform “to make sure not another family has to suffer what we suffered.”

“I get calls. I get DMs, people from Brazil, from Ghana, from Germany. Everybody. London, Italy, they’re all saying the same thing. ‘We won’t be able to breathe until you’re able to breathe.’ Today, we are able to breathe again,” Philonise Floyd said.

“The fact that a lot of people were questioning if he would be found guilty, with the video that everybody saw, says a lot about where we are as a society,” Rahsaan Rogers, a radio host on Sirrius XM, said while having lunch with friends in Leimert Park. “It’s hard to really celebrate because of the way things are. You can’t enjoy the verdict the way you want to.”

Concern about an acquittal for Chauvin was evident among many African Americans, who had seen a number of police brutality cases, even those with apparent video evidence, result in no punishment or charges for the officers involved.

“They didn’t want us popping off,” Haqqiqah Abdulhaqq, a consultant in Los Angeles, said of the 12-person jury. “There would have been trouble everywhere.”

There is mild hope that Chauvin’s conviction will lead to more serious police reform and better engagement tactics when police encounter African-Americans. Most of the high-profile, fatal police shootings involve African-Americans.

Charles Williams, 72, has lived through a “lifetime” of police brutality cases with no convictions or investigations. Seeing Chauvin’s conviction was a memorable moment for him.

“Now police should know that they just can’t have their way with us,” said Williams, a local entertainer. “I was relieved to see the verdict go that way. We would have been looking at a powder keg if the guy got off.”

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at rayrich55@gmail.com

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