Content warning: police brutality
For the first time in the state of Minnesota’s history, a white officer has been charged with the murder of a Black man. On April 20, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd. After less then 12 hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Chauvin of second- and third- degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter.
Judge Peter Cahill read the jury’s verdict around 4 p.m. as the state of Minnesota, the nation and the world watched. The trial came to an end almost a year after Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020. Floyd’s death, recorded by bystanders, sparked protests across the world and a global conversation around racism and police brutality.
Meanwhile on campus, students gathered in dorm rooms, classrooms and community spaces to watch the jury’s decision. In the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, a group of students congregated in front of the TV anxiously waiting. The room was silent as the group waited for Cahill to appear on the screen.
As the sun broke through the clouds and through the window of the Taylor Center, Cahill began to read the jury’s verdict. The air was full of tension and remained as the Judge read off all three convictions. Almost in disbelief, students remained silent, watching Chauvin be handcuffed and taken out of the courtroom. Tears streamed behind the students’ masks as the news showed images of celebration at George Floyd square in Minneapolis. Students began to move around the space, hugging each other and processing the historic moment.
“God is good, God is good,” said Mannie Bioh ’22. “All the time, He is good.”
“I feel so relieved. I feel like I can breathe,” said Evie Slater ’22. “It doesn’t bring George Floyd back and it doesn’t mean this is over, but it’s a step in the right direction. And it gives me hope for Daunte Wright’s case.”
Killed by former officer Kim Potter on April 11 during a traffic stop, Wright’s death reignited protests across the state and added pressure to the Chauvin verdict. The jury’s conviction signals hope for some, when it comes to police brutality.
With the increasing criticism of the U.S. justice system and the events of last summer in recent memory, students were worried, not knowing what to expect.
“I didn’t know what to expect. The justice system is weird, we all blatantly saw the video. You would think it would be an obvious verdict,” said Lerato Mensah-Aborampah ’22. Paulina Morera Quesada ’24 shared similar sentiments, thinking about her feelings prior to knowing the jury’s decision.
“I felt very empty, I didn’t know what to expect, what to feel. It was very stressful,” Morera Quesada said. “I think I have very little trust in this system. I just kept thinking ‘can we keep asking people to go through more pain right now?’”
The weight of the trial and recent killings of Wright and 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago, alongside pandemic fatigue, has added to the stress, sadness and anger the BIPOC community on campus has been feeling. Chauvin being held accountable for Floyd’s death gives a moment to breathe.
“I feel like this small win is like a ray of sunshine. For the school, for the community, for the BIPOC community, for our Black peers, this is fantastic news,” said Jimena Maida Colindres ’23.
In a response to the verdict, President David Anderson ’74 sent an email to the campus announcing there would be no class on Wednesday, April 21, and instead it would be “a day of healing and reflection for our campus community.”
Interim Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Director of the Taylor Center, María Pabón Gautier, sent a follow up with the details of events being held for students, faculty and staff to process the jury’s decision and gather in community.
In the morning, the Taylor Center held a morning reflection for anyone who wanted to find community, engage in self care and discuss.
Chapel held a candlelight event on Wednesday night — a time for personal reflection and prayer.
The Center for Advising and Academic support and the Wellness Center provided resources on radical healing as well as self care supplies.
The Flaten Art Museum and Art History department teamed up and provided space for a collective wall drawing, noting how art can be a powerful tool of expression.
Chalk stations were located around the quad for students to write messages or create art. The Paw program held a special session Wednesday afternoon for members of the community to engage in some animal therapy.
Pabón Gautier hoped that the elimination of classes and activities gave students, faculty and staff the space and time they needed to heal or process.
“There are times in our lives in our history where it requires us to stop and take a pause and this is one of those where it was important for us to recognize that our community is going to need space to process, to just do what they need to do,” Pabón Gautier said.