In a case that gripped global attention, Caribbean and other elected officials on Tuesday welcomed the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, a Black man, on May 25, 2020.
The 12-member, mixed race jury deliberated for just over 10 hours before declaring Chauvin, 45, a white former police officer, guilty on all three charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
A video, captured by a teenage girl, which was repeatedly shown in the televised court hearing, showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, as he pleaded for his life, before dying. Floyd was 46.
“Derek Chauvin was given the due process he denied George Floyd, and he must serve his sentence,” Caribbean American Democratic Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke told Caribbean Life soon after the verdict. “He was convicted and found guilty on all three counts.
“While this verdict will not bring George Floyd back, this is also a proud day for America,” added Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the largely Caribbean 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn.
“This verdict is a start — and the sentencing must match the egregious nature of the crime — but it does not absolve Congress and the federal government of our responsibility to reform policing across the country,” she added. “And it is a reminder of the need for the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act. Black Lives still, and always will, matter!”
Clarke’s congressional colleague, Hakeem Jeffries – who represents the adjacent 8th Congressional District that includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and also comprises a significant number of Caribbean nationals – said that, in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing, “people of good will throughout America spoke up, stood up and showed up to demand justice.
“The jury has spoken and delivered a just verdict by convicting Derek Chauvin of murder,” said Jeffries, chairman of the House of Representative’s Democratic Caucus.
“It’s now time for America to come together, elevate the principle of equal protection under the law and continue this country’s march toward a more perfect union,” he added.
Veteran New York State Assemblyman Nick Perry, the Jamaican-born representative for the predominantly Caribbean 58th Assembly District in Brooklyn, applauded the guilty verdict.
But he added: “As we celebrate, we should be careful not to fool ourselves and fully understand that the struggle for freedom and equality in America has really just begun.
“Inspired by the memory of martyrs like George Floyd, Emmett Till, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, we must resolve to never give up, and never relent in our call to push America to the day when the color of one’s skin will never again be the measure of one’s rights and dignity,” Perry said. “I continue to pray for the Floyd family, and the entire nation as we continue on our fight for justice.”
New York State Assemblywoman Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, the Haitian-American chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, said Tuesday’s verdict “will not bring George Floyd back, but I pray it will bring some sense of peace to his family.
“By holding Derek Chauvin accountable in this case, the court and jury set a precedent,” said Bichotte Hermelyn, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, who represents the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn.
“We hope that this verdict will resonate with those who are charged with enforcing our laws,” she added. “We have witnessed far too many miscarriages of justice, for far too long. Black lives matter.
“We have a long way to go to dismantle systemic racism, which has prevailed in our country since its founding,” she added. But, today, we have reason to believe that it is possible. Today, we can begin to heal as a country. We are celebrating this step on the road to justice from Minneapolis to Brooklyn and beyond.”
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian Williams, said while Floyd’s family received “some semblance of justice, or at least accountability,” he felt their pain, as well as “the perpetual pain of Blacks in America from a wound that never really has time to scar over, much less heal, before it is again ripped open by a headline, a video, a verdict.
“So, while I’m relieved the jury reached the right decision, that Derek Chauvin will face consequences, I’m not celebrating,” Williams said. “It’s hard to truly breathe a sigh of relief when George Floyd cannot. Derek Chauvin is guilty, but George Floyd is dead.
“That this verdict was ever in doubt, amid overwhelming evidence, is itself evidence of the reality that, to some, Black lives matter less than white privilege,” he added. “That this trial could not pass without another senseless police killing of an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis is evidence that the moral arc’s bend toward justice still stretches long before us. But the verdict gives us some hope that, if we persist, we may persevere.
“I’m glad for today’s verdict, but I’m not okay,” continued Williams, stating that he’ll “continue to join the protests that will undoubtedly fill the streets, because we are not okay, and too many people, systems, institutions are okay with that.”
New York City Council Member Farah Louis, another daughter of Haitian immigrants, said Tuesday’s verdict “goes beyond simply providing justice for George Floyd and his family.
“It will symbolize justice for the countless lives lost, including New York City’s own Eric Garner, at the hands of officers who seem to disregard the fact that we are innocent until proven guilty,” said Louis, vice co-chair of the Black Latino and Asian Caucus (BLAC) in the City Council. “Our nation will feel the effects of the guilty verdict passed onto Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd for weeks, months and years to come.
“While a guilty verdict will not bring George Floyd back to his young daughter, it will open the door towards holding law enforcement officers accountable for their crimes,” added Louis, who represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn. “Today is a critical step forward, setting a clear message that police officers must treat Black and Brown people with dignity and respect.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a Black former captain with the New York Police Department (NYPD), described Wednesday’s verdict as “a victory for justice.
“But, as recent events have reminded us, the work of ending police abuse – a cause to which I have dedicated my life – is far from over,” said Adams, a candidate for New York City Mayor in June’s Democratic Primary. “Let us recommit to pursuing justice and fighting for accountability, so no more families know the pain of seeing a loved one mistreated or killed at the hands of law enforcement.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who traces his roots to Jamaica, said while Wednesday’s decision “is just and welcomed, there is no cause for celebration today.
“No verdict will reunite George Floyd’s children with their father or his siblings with their brother. There is no ruling that will soothe the anguish George’s family feels every day, knowing his final 9 minutes and 29 seconds were spent gasping for air beneath the knee of a police officer for the entire world to see,” he said.
“We applaud justice being served for George Floyd’s family today, and our hearts are with them, as they continue to grieve. But for every case that ends in a conviction, there are countless more where justice escapes us,” Richards added.
“Until Black and Brown lives finally matter equally in our society, our struggle continues — in the name of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Amadou Diallo and all those we have senselessly lost,” he continued.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, an ardent supporter of the Caribbean community in New York, said: “Today, there is finally accountability for this atrocious crime that stole the life of a father, brother, son and friend.
“I pray that the Floyd family finds some semblance of justice and peace for this horribly unjust act,” she said. “While true justice will never be served as long as Black men and women are subjected to such inequality, today, we are one step closer to a fairer system.”
US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother, spoke at the White House after Chauvin’s conviction for murder and manslaughter.
While applauding the verdict, Biden said, in a nationwide address, that it was “too rare” a step to render “basic accountability” for Black Americans.
“It was a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see,” he said. “For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability.”
Earlier, before the verdict was announced, the US President took the extraordinary step of calling Floyd’s family and telling reporters that he was “praying” for the “right verdict.”
“This can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America,” Biden said.
Harris, who addressed the nation before introducing Biden Tuesday night, urged legislators in the US Senate to pass a measure, which she had helped sponsor as a senator, that will reform policing in the US, describing it as a part of Floyd’s legacy.
“Today, we feel a sigh of relief. Still, it cannot take away the pain,” she said. “A measure of justice is not the same as equal justice.”
Chauvin will be sentenced in eight weeks. The judge in the case can sentence him to prison for up to 40 years.
Under Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines, he could get 12.5 years for the most serious charge of second-degree murder.
Prosecutors, however, are asking for a stiffer sentence, arguing that children were present when Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck, suffocating him, and that Chauvin treated Floyd with “particular cruelty” in abusing “his position of authority.”