Yesterday brought the verdict we’d all anxiously awaited: Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd.
A jury convicted the former Minneapolis police officer on all counts—second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter—after he kneeled on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes last May during an arrest, causing Floyd's death and prompting Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Chauvin's sentencing hearing will be in about eight weeks, at which time he’ll potentially face decades in prison (but perhaps as little as 12.5 years).
For Carolyn Riley-Payne, president of the Seattle King County NAACP, the Chauvin result was heartening. “This verdict shows that the thin blue line of police silence can be broken; that police officers have it within them to stand up and hold their fellow officers accountable; that prosecutors can muster the resources and evidence to secure a guilty verdict against police when they have the will do to so; and that juries are capable of seeing the truth, which is that Black and brown people in America continue to be killed by police for no other reason than the color of their skin,” Riley-Payne said in a statement.
At the same time, the local NAACP chapter president said, “we are not satisfied.”
“We know that our work is not done, that Black and brown people continue to be targeted, assaulted and killed by police every day, and that they rarely see justice. We see it in our backyard, in King County, where Black and Indigenous people are killed at a vastly disproportionate rate. We live in an America where white people can storm the U.S. Capitol and go home safe and [unharmed], while Black and brown people are effectively sentenced to death for counterfeit dollar bills and loose cigarettes.”
Activists and politicians, from Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan to King County executive Dow Constantine to Washington governor Jay Inslee, released similarly tempered statements. Inslee noted that Washington is in the process of reforming police investigations. Yesterday, the state legislature passed a bill requiring police officers to intervene when a fellow cop is using excessive force. (The three other Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd's arrest will stand trial in August for aiding and abetting Chauvin.)
The Seattle Police Department, which has had its own fitful journey on reform, said that Floyd's death has changed the way it approaches public safety. With memories of tear gas on Capitol Hill last summer still fresh, however, many on social media lampooned the statement; an SPD tweet was promptly ratioed. "Sit this one out," tweeted local political commentator Brett Hamil.
Some statements seemed to come with a touch of trepidation that the widespread social unrest of last summer would return. SPD noted that "it supports the First Amendment rights of everyone and requests that, when you gather, please do so peacefully while respecting the rights of others." Durkan's struck a similar note. "We will do all we can to protect the cherished right to assemble and express First Amendment rights, but we will also make sure we maintain public safety, protect people, and protect the safety of every community.”
A citywide moment of silence and prayer was scheduled for 7pm. Shortly thereafter, officers could be seen and heard driving mostly empty streets, explaining their patrolling via megaphone. Protesters would gather in Cal Anderson Park and march downtown, but no assembly in the city last night matched the swell of demonstrations on Capitol Hill last summer.
More protests in the days and weeks to come could well conjure those scenes. But in the hours after justice was finally rendered, a sense of relief seemed to win the day for many in Seattle, which is perhaps the greatest indictment of our justice system yet.