Oregonians expressed a mix of relief and caution Tuesday, as jurors found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts for his role in the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose death under Chauvin’s knee in 2020 prompted months of protests across the country.
After beginning deliberations late Monday, jurors returned their verdict Tuesday.
Minnesota Judge Peter Cahill thanked the jurors for their “heavy duty” service on the case, and remanded Chauvin, 45, to jail following the convictions.
Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He faces up to 40 years in prison. The charges asserted that his actions were a significant factor in Floyd’s death.
A small crowd gathered outside the Multnomah County Justice Center in downtown Portland chanted George Floyd’s name and celebrated as the verdict was read.
Across Oregon, civil rights advocates reacted with cautious elation.
“It feels like for years, I have dealt with this guillotine on my lungs when it comes to all of the lives that we’ve lost,” said Cameron Whitten, the founder and CEO of the advocacy group Brown Hope. “And to have heard that verdict just now, it is a breath of air. I am in awe that we finally, as a country, can see some justice in places where justice has never existed before.”
Whitten contrasted Tuesday’s guilty verdict with the 2014 killing of Eric Garner by New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo. In that case, a grand jury deliberated for two months before deciding not to indict Pantaleo for choking and killing Garner.
“I feel relieved, conflicted, sad, angry,” said Lakayana Drury, the founder and executive director of Word Is Bond, an organization that aims to change the relationships between young, Black men and law enforcement. “It took the entire emotional capacity of the Black community to even push for this. And then the combined effort of the general public just to get to ... a verdict that we couldn’t even guarantee. What that all means is that we don’t have a justice system for Black people in this country.”
Drury said people shouldn’t believe one verdict means systemic problems with policing have been fixed.
“We have a long way to go,” he said.
State of emergency
Portland saw among the most sustained protests nationwide following Floyd’s death, as Oregonians demanded changes in policing and opposed a federal crackdown that tried to squash anger over the killing of Black people in America at the hands of police.
On Tuesday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared an immediate state of emergency before the verdict was read, saying he was prepared for more protests after recent demonstrations resulted in property destruction and fires. That declaration lasts until noon Wednesday.
“As the mayor, I’ve declared a state of emergency to allow city bureaus to facilitate peaceful First Amendment activity and respond to any violence if necessary,” Wheeler said at a press conference.
That state of emergency declaration allowed Oregon State Police, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon National Guard to lend aid to Portland police for any demonstrations. Portland Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis said his officers would not be federally deputized, as they have for some past demonstrations in the city.
Wheeler, who was joined by City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, later issued a statement praising the conviction.
“Derek Chauvin was rightfully declared guilty for the murder of George Floyd. The verdict won’t bring back George Floyd, and it won’t repair the damage, but it is an encouraging waypoint on the long road to justice and equity,” Wheeler wrote.
After the verdict came down, Portland Commissioner Carmen Rubio also wrote in a statement that while the conviction was what the nation “expected and called for,” it alone would not make Black Americans any safer.
”While we recognize that a guilty verdict was delivered in this specific case, it is still not safe for many Black lives because numerous Americans refuse to acknowledge that white supremacy and racism continue to define this country in too many ways,” she wrote. “Today’s decision will not be an indication that America is changing unless we make it so.”
Holding police accountable
Demonstrations across the Northwest were not limited to large cities like Portland, however. Floyd’s killing also brought together activist groups in Southwest Washington and more rural parts of Oregon.
In Central Oregon, where an activist group called the Peacekeepers formed in 2020, protests against racism and vigils for victims of police violence have persisted. The group’s 29-year-old Afro-Latino leader, Luke Richter, said the verdict was the “best possible outcome that could have happened in this situation.”
“I hope this opens the door for more police speaking out on bad [officers], and having conversations to make the whole system better,” Richter said.
He said he wants activists to keep putting pressure on police leaders and policymakers “so that things like this become the regular when a cop kills somebody.”
In Clark County, Washington, where sheriff’s deputies have killed two Black men since fall 2020, civil rights groups repeated the refrain that the work is not over.
“I don’t want people to think ‘OK, my hands are washed. He’s guilty and now we can get back to our daily schedules,’” said Jasmine Tolbert, president of the NAACP’s Vancouver chapter.
Three deputies shot Kevin Peterson Jr. on Oct. 29 during an attempted drug bust. Then, on Feb. 4, a deputy wrestled with Jenoah Donald during a traffic stop and ended up shooting him in the head. Prosecutors have not decided in either case whether the shootings were justified or to press charges.
“We’ve had two shootings in the last two quarters, and we have to navigate that while our entire country is in a breaking point,” Tolbert added. “I don’t know. But I’m excited to get back to work.”
“It’s a victory towards things changing,” Kevin Peterson Sr., Peterson’s father, said on behalf of their family.
Donald’s mother, Sue Zawacky, and his brother Josh issued a statement Tuesday through their attorney.
“We hope Jenoah gets the same justice,” they said.
Criminal defense and civil right attorney Erious Johnson said he was concerned awaiting the verdict because he saw Chauvin’s defense do their job and create “some kind of doubt.”
“I just wish you could’ve heard me,” Johnson said. “I thought my head was going to explode when I saw it, because I really thought he was going to walk away.”
Johnson said the verdict shows the criminal justice can work.
“Being a Black man in America, I get a lot of guff for being a criminal defense attorney, ‘how can you believe in this system?’” Johnson said. “I’m trying to uphold it and make it work. So this is like, man, it does work, it can work. It can help right itself. I feel really good for the people who protested and took to the streets. The universe is balanced at least for the moment.”
Portland civil rights attorney Juan Chavez has filed numerous lawsuits against law enforcement including how police in Portland responded to protests in the weeks after Floyd was killed. For the last year, he said many have stored “in our bones and in our nerves” a collective fear that the jury might not convict the former Minneapolis police officer.
“I’m moved, I’m really moved that truth prevailed,” Chavez told OPB.
Law enforcement in Oregon also issued statements on the Chauvin verdict, calling it “measure of closure” for Floyd’s family.
Today, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt (@DAMikeSchmidt) released the following statement following the verdict in State of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin. https://t.co/wbKzrQIuml pic.twitter.com/I1rEdc54kw— Multnomah County DA's Office (@MultCoDA) April 20, 2021
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said Floyd’s death should never have happened and acknowledged the verdict would not bring back his life.
“The systems of accountability worked, holding an individual, who worked within that very system, responsible for their criminal actions,” Reese said in a statement after the verdict. “(Law enforcement has) a moral responsibility to protect people in our custody from harm. The actions by Derek Chauvin and additional officers go against our training and our code of ethics.”
The common theme Tuesday among activists who have been fighting systemic racism and police violence for years was that the conviction is a move in the right direction, but they remain skeptical of the justice system.
“I understand the celebration, I understand the sense of relief and retribution and vindication that a lot of us are going to feel,” said Mic Crenshaw, a local hip hop artist and educator. “I also want to stay on my toes and see how things develop in the weeks and months to come. "
Crenshaw said he wants to know what Chauvin’s sentence will be, and whether the case faces an appeal.
He also pointed to recent police killings of Adam Toledo in Chicago and Duante Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota as potential indicators of where the nation stands regarding police accountability.
“These are fresh murders,” Crenshaw said. “And even though the cop who shot Duante Wright was charged, we’re going to have to see how the national climate responds in terms of consequences for law enforcement.”