In the wake of the Derek Chauvin trial verdict, CapRadio held a conversation with community activists and experts to speak about what impact the guilty verdict for the former police officer who murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis could have on Sacramento and the city’s local racial justice movement.
Four guests — longtime community activist Sonia Lewis, co-found of the Anti Police Terror Project Asantewaa Boykin, Bishoy Abdelshaid of Black Lives Matter Sacramento and Jonathan Simon, a Criminal Justice law professor at UC Berkeley — joined to help parse what a verdict like this could mean, if anything, for those fighting for accountability for officer-involved shootings and brutality.
Below is a condensed version of the conversation.
What were your thoughts when the verdict was first announced yesterday? And what were your thoughts as the trial was going on these past few weeks?
Sonia Lewis: I think hearing the guilty, repeated by guilty, repeated by guilty, there was a tad of surprise in the sense that all three charges he was found guilty. I think that we're at a time where the expectation in community was that at least we would get one charge right. It would have been good if he got two. And it would be extra spectacular if we got all three. And so it took a minute to process. And when I say process, like, is this real kind of processing, but at the same time experiencing the emotional pushback that our ancestors who were in the same type of predicaments via lynching, via beating, the abuse that has been 400 years in the making, didn't get this kind of result. And while I don't want to jump the gun and say that this is justice, this is just a step in the right direction. We have so much work to do and it's time to go harder.
Assantewaa Boykin: I think the guilty verdict was evidence that there is some progress that has been made. I don't think that it's evidence of us currently being able to live in the world that we want to. Despite all arrows pointing to a guilty verdict, I still had a hard time up until the minute. Yeah, letting go of the thought that, like, ‘You still think it's going to be not guilty, right?’ Because it's been not guilty time and time and time and time again. And in that, it made me have to reflect on my own moral compass and political ideologies. Because abolishing the prison industrial complex is like number one on the list, right? So then what does that look like for me to celebrate someone being trapped inside of that? Being trapped inside of that system and reconciling those thoughts and feeling absolutely fine with him being in a jail cell currently. And what does that mean and what does that say about abolition?
Bishoy Abdelshaid: I was actually watching it with my students. And when it happened and when I watched 17 young Black boys just really feel a sense of joy, I'm never going to take that away. That’s something no one gets to tell any Black person how to feel. And that's something that I think folks often forget in these conversations and not think. Sonia put it beautifully in terms of talking about collectiveness. It is not just a collective feeling, not just a collective experience. It's collective trauma. And so it can also be a collective joy. These things don't have to happen in a vacuum and separate from one another.
Is this verdict something that's going to serve as a legal or even a cultural precedent? Is this something that can serve to change the system at all?
Jonathan Simon: My hope and my sense of history lies in the sense that we are experiencing a cultural change driven by the Black Lives Matter movement and leading to an erosion of this amazing confidence in police that white people in America have had since the '60s and which has led them. I'm old enough to remember when the police officers who beat Rodney King so savagely were acquitted in the face of their evidence. So sometimes culture is more powerful than even the witness of our own eyes. So I think that's a change that I've compared to the Me Too movement in some ways that we're believing are reality now in a way.
My concern is two-fold. One, I hear what Bishoy is saying about this was a win in a way, but for the Minneapolis Police Department, it now looks like this was a rogue actor and that this is not a problem of policing. And I fear that in terms of future, even accountability — and I'm not somebody who thinks accountability is enough to undo the injustice that we're talking about — but even accountability is important. And I'm afraid that this might establish almost a new threshold, like, 'Well, it's not as strong an evidence as we had against their children. Maybe we’re just not certain enough to convict.' So that's always a worry about how the law will be applied in the future.
Boykin: I'm also concerned about, just like the gentleman said, like, does it have to be so clear cut that like 10 minutes of videotape and your brothers in blue turning on you in order to get right, in order to get a conviction. So, I mean, it's a catch 22. There's abolition, like always land on that, right, like there's always evolution and evolution is always is always the goal. So if even this case gets us one step closer to that, then I'm all for it.
Abdelshaid: I think when I think of the legal precedent, it does not matter. Right? And I think the reason I say this is because I don't need, we as Black folks do not need the state to tell us when and when we are not human. That does not matter to me. I do not believe in the state. I do not care for it and its precedents because its precedents come from years of desiring to kill us and successfully killing us.
But I will say this is my biggest worry, that not only will this kind of create this notion of do we have enough, as much evidence as we did in the Derrick Chauvin trial? But it's also, ‘Do we now have to and will [we] force Black folks and specifically those who are murdered by police officers … to continue to have their lives on trial in front of the world to see while those videos are watched time and time and time again. Is that the only way that these folks who are no longer with us embody, the only way that they can have some small sliver of justice is we all have to relive the worst aspects of what they had to go through.
My fear now is that George Floyd is no longer George Floyd. George Floyd is now synonymous with Derek Chauvin. George Floyd is now synonymous with murder. Folks have forgotten that he was a grandfather. He was a father. He was a son. He was a church activist, community activist, a rapper. A football player. Like we forget that, and now it's always going to be that was the brother who got his neck set after nine and a half minutes. That's my fear for all Black folks.
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