‘No Justice When Lives Are Stolen.’ Bay Area Leaders Aren't Celebrating Chauvin Verdict Just Yet

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Black women wearing masks, fists raised in solidarity
People gather at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 20, 2021 near the spot where George Floyd was murdered by former police officer Derek Chauvin. A jury convicted Chauvin of all three charges he faced in Floyd's killing. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

It was a victory to many in the Bay Area, but a painful one.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd. With gatherings planned in Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco to honor Floyd's life and process the verdict, many offered muted words of relief, but stopped short of jubilant celebration.

In public statements and on social media, Bay Area civic and social justice leaders said while the conviction of Chauvin was perhaps surprising, and may uplift movements emphasizing the value of Black lives and demanding an end to systemic racism and police violence in the United States, it came at too high a cost.

True justice would see George Floyd still alive.

Cat Brooks, a longtime Oakland activist and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, told KQED she expected a conviction because of the "sheer brutality of what Derek Chauvin did."

"This was an evolutionary moment in our movement, and we forced justice to take place," she said.

Wanda Johnson – the mother of Oscar Grant, who was killed by former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in 2009 – told KQED she was relieved.

"I'm just thankful," Johnson said, because "eyes are being opened to see the inhumane things happening to people of color, to people not being held accountable for their actions."

Johnson said there was less awareness of police violence against Black people when Mehserle, who claimed he meant to reach for his Taser, shot her son in the back as he lay face down on the Fruitvale Station BART platform. A jury convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter in 2010. He was sentenced to a two-year prison term, of which he served 11 months.

"I believe in my heart that it is being viewed differently now, it's different than when Oscar was killed," Johnson said. In Chauvin's trial, "there was no way a conviction could not take place."

Lateefah Simon, a BART board member, longtime activist and adviser on policing reform to Gov. Newsom, sees the verdict as a long-overdue signal of something deeper. “To me, it is the beginning of hopefully some deep reconciliation, that has taken over 400 years,” Simon said.

“They can no longer look at these boys like monsters — that have no families, and rip them out of cars and shoot them in the back,” Simon told KQED, through tears. “I can’t believe it. I’m shocked. I’m banging pots.”

Floyd's death on Memorial Day 2020 sparked protests in Minneapolis, across the United States and around the world, as people rallied for police reform and racial justice. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man from Houston, had moved to Minnesota just three years earlier. He was a father and brother who idolized his mother, loved making music and had been a star athlete as a young man.

Floyd died after Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds as Floyd lay face down, hands cuffed behind his back.

"George Floyd is still dead," San Francisco Mayor London Breed told KQED.

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Breed said the verdict brought up "a lot of emotion," because "sadly as an African American, it's something we've lived with our entire lives. It's something that unfortunately we've come to expect, that this could happen and no one would be held accountable because in some cases African Americans do feel less valued." She added, "a lot of what you see in this verdict is the outrage that comes from people of all walks of life, in this country and in the world."

"I don't care what race you are, if you saw this video and if you saw what happened, how could you not be heartbroken by what you saw?" Breed said.

It is hard to process the verdict, she said, but it is "definitely a step in the right direction."

In a statement, Breed highlighted San Francisco's own efforts to reform its police force, from its Street Crisis Response Teams to send paramedics and behavioral health specialists, instead of police, to mental health 911 calls, to an effort to redirect some $120 million from law enforcement efforts to investing in Black youth and families, housing and health care. Some critics have derided that disinvestment as not really cutting into police work itself.

The Defund SFPD Now group said it would "be tempting to consider this verdict a win," but "the only way to reduce police violence is to reduce the number of interactions between police and our communities" by defunding, disarming and disbanding police.

At Lake Merritt, Wednesday, Oaklanders speaking to KQED said everything from Floyd's death, to the trial, and the verdict, were sad all around.

"It's a little bit of a paradox for me. The damage is done, but how do we provide justice?" said Robel Habte, an Oakland resident who comes from eastern Africa.

Richard Ainsworth, also an Oakland resident who is originally from the United Kingdom, said, "I don't feel personally any cause for celebration in putting someone away for life," while adding that police reform is needed across the United States.

Another Oakland resident, Toyosi Oniru, who intends on studying criminal law in school, told KQED the conviction was a win because "they're finally hearing us, that Black lives do matter."

But, she added, "I still wake up every day concerned for my dad, for my brothers, for my cousins, all the Black males in my family, all my Black male friends — that’s still a big concern for me."

Anisha White (left) and Toyosi Oniru sit at Lake Merritt in Oakland on Tuesday April, 20, 2021, after a guilty verdict was announced for Derek Chauvin earlier in the afternoon. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Many Oakland officials agreed that the work to bend the arc of justice in the country carries on.

"There can be no justice when lives are stolen. Only accountability," tweeted Oakland Councilmember Carroll Fife. Councilmember Loren Taylor tweeted, "Relieved that our criminal justice system finally got something right when it comes to police violence. At the same time, I'm not naive to the fact that this is just one verdict in one trial and true just society consistently renders (justice)."

Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland's vice mayor, tweeted, "Let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tweeted, "Today's verdict is a just one, and it's also an indictment. The deep structural racism that pervades our country — and leads to the state-sponsored murder of Black men like George Floyd and too many others — must end. Juries shouldn't have to tell us this."

Gov. Gavin Newsom noted, in a statement, "The hard truth is that, if George Floyd looked like me, he'd still be alive today. No conviction can repair the harm done to George Floyd and his family, but today's verdict provides some accountability as we work to root out the racial injustice that haunts our society."

At least one Bay Area political leader drew condemnation for her remarks on the Chauvin verdict.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at a press conference with the Congressional Black Caucus, said, "Thank you George Floyd for sacrificing your life for justice."

Many on social media criticized Pelosi's remarks, noting that Floyd did not willingly sacrifice his life – it was taken from him by Derek Chauvin.

This story includes reporting from KQED's Marisa Lagos and Scott Shafer, and NPR's Laurel Wamsley.

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