Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!
Subscribe to the newsletter!
Much of Evanston was watching or listening when, at 4 p.m. on April 20, a jury convicted now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
The case took on international meaning as a symbol of injustice at the hands of the State after multiple videos captured the death of Mr. Floyd as a result of then-Officer Chauvin’s kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, pinning him face-down on the pavement while he was handcuffed for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
“’I can’t breathe’. Those were George Floyd’s last words. We can’t let those words die with him. We have to keep hearing those words. We must not turn away. … We have a chance to begin to change the trajectory in this country,” said President Joe Biden during a joint appearance with Vice President Kamala Harris soon after the verdict was announced.
After the jury had been sequestered, President Biden said the evidence in the case was “overwhelming” and that he was praying for the right decision in the trial.
“Today, we feel a sigh of relief. Still, it cannot take away the pain. A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice. This verdict brings us a step closer. And, the fact is, we still have work to do. We still must reform the system,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, who appeared alongside the President.
A diverse jury of seven women and five men ranging in age from 20s to 60s – six white people, four Black people and two identifying as multiracial – deliberated for about 10 hours over two days before coming to a unanimous verdict, according to NPR/WBEZ Chicago and other major news outlets.
Some Evanston residents shared their thoughts and feelings about the verdict with the RoundTable.
“I do want to say, thank God, finally justice was served – although we still have a long way to go as a nation in terms of police accountability, and in terms of how we police in our communities,” said Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite.
Joseph Sargent, an eighth-grade student at Haven Middle School, took time out from skateboarding outside Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center late in the afternoon of April 20 to talk with the RoundTable.
“I’m pretty happy that justice is served after all this time in deciding, with the court systems and stuff. … After all that has happened, including protests, there was finally justice for the killing of an innocent African American man by a police officer. … I think it made a big impact on the world,” said Joseph, who will attend Evanston Township High School next year.
Film of Mr. Floyd’s death, particularly the video taken by a teenage witness, was the catalyst for global protests over policing and racism.
“The world witnessed George Floyd’s murder. Thankfully, the jury has convicted the murderer,” wrote Evanston Township High School/District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon in a statement to the RoundTable. “But systemic racism and racial disparities plague our country. We can honor Mr. Floyd by relentlessly demanding and fighting for racial justice in America.”
Across the street from the high school, store owners Clarence and Wendy Weaver were assisting customers at C&W Market and Ice Cream Parlor, 1901 Church St., when they learned the jury had reached a guilty verdict.
“Obviously this is a day where justice stood. For Chauvin to be convicted, it makes all the sense in the world. You know, to have your knee on someone’s neck for nine minutes-plus is a true sign of violence. It’s unfortunate that George Floyd is not alive today. While justice is served, his life was lost and his family will still continue to be impacted by this. …
“It’s a happy moment for justice, and it’s a sad day for the George Floyd family, and the police officer as well. At the end of the day, justice rules no matter what. And that’s what has to happen. Justice has to continue to rule first,” said Mr. Weaver, who along with Mrs. Weaver and a team of dedicated volunteers, packs and distributes more than 200 bags of groceries every Saturday to Evanston families and seniors in need.
“I was relieved to see the results with the jury verdict. I feel that justice has been served, and there’s accountability. That needs to happen,” said Evanston resident Stephanie Gamauf, who had heard the verdict before setting out with her sons to do errands.
Like President Biden and people throughout the United States and the world, Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, was watching live TV coverage when the verdict was read by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill.
“The world witnessed the unquestionable murder of George Floyd, and this guilty verdict is appropriate; it is justice. George Floyd is one of millions of Black men and women murdered in this nation in the spirit of racial terror against people of African descent. We have a long road to justice, including policy and systems change to stop police and racial terror, and end the centuries of crimes against the Black community in America,” she wrote in a statement to the RoundTable.
Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama released this statement after the verdict:
“Today, a jury in Minneapolis did the right thing. … But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial. True justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently, every day.
“It requires us to recognize that millions of our friends, family, and fellow citizens live in fear that their next encounter with law enforcement could be their last. And it requires us to do the sometimes thankless, often difficult, but always necessary work of making the America we know more like the America we believe in.”