A year ago today, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, killing him. Nationwide protests against police brutality followed Floyd’s murder. On April 20, the jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Floyd.
Architecture senior and President of Internal Affairs of Cal Poly’s Black Student Union (BSU) Zane Ellis-Rector described his reaction as muted, yet satisfied. He was satisfied that the court agreed Chauvin’s actions were unjust, but muted because there’s more work to be done.
“It doesn’t end with this,” he said. “There’s so many other families that will go through this, have gone through this and until we take a really close look at the problem itself, things aren’t going to get better.”
In Chicago in March, 13-year-old Adam Toledo was fatally shot by police as he raised his hands. About a week prior to the Cauvin’s verdict, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was killed by police during a traffic stop, about 10 miles from where Chauvin was on trial. About 20 minutes before the guilty verdict, Ma’Khia Bryant, a teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, was shot and killed by the police there.
Police violence is still in a perpetual cycle fueled by institutional racism, Ellis-Rector said.
“I watched with intrigue and oftentimes disgust, remorse and sadness, but also with a sense of responsibility to lay witness to what is happening,” Ellis-Rector said.
Trials, such as this one, expose the realities of racism, he said.
“These folks are laying out bare for the entire country to see just how heinous a crime was committed,” he said.
In regards to the recent guilty verdict, civil engineering graduate student and Community Outreach Director for BSU Jon Gausman said, “Don’t mistake the forest for the trees.”
“There’s hundreds of more cases every year,” Gausman said. “So I think I was pleased, but also I’m really hesitant to say, ‘We’re in the land of justice now.’”
Gausman is optimistic that this verdict marks a turning point in American history, as it has opened up long overdue conversations about police brutality on a Congressional and cultural level.
He has participated in protests for more than 20 years from Rodny King to Oscar Grant, and his form of protest now is in obtaining his engineering degree, which is powerful for his community and breaks generational and systemic expectations.
Gausman thinks the nation’s next course of action involves two distinct steps.
“Step one is to go back through, get justice for the people in the past who never got it,” he said. “Then step two is, let’s talk on a cultural level; what are we going to tolerate as a people.”
Statistics professor and a co-chair of Cal Poly’s Black Faculty and Staff Association Immanuel Williams remembers a day before the verdict he watched a movie, Two Distant Strangers, about a Black man in a time loop that no matter what he does ends with a deadly run-in with a cop. Williams then heard news of another fatal police shooting and following this, heard of the guilty verdict.
In terms of this guilty verdict, he does not see an end to the cycle of police brutality.
According to The New York Times, from when testimony began on March 29 to April 17, at least 64 people had died at the hands of law enforcement nationwide, with Black and Latino people representing more than half of the dead. The average was more than three killings a day as of April 17.
“Who cares about the verdict, people are still getting shot — unarmed,” Williams said.
Even at Cal Poly, Williams arrives on campus early and says he has to be extra careful.
“You can’t really trust anyone,” he said.
Executive Director from R.A.C.E. Matters SLO, Courtney Haile said in an email, “We were relieved by bearing witness to accountability; yet the trauma feels never-ending and the work continues. R.A.C.E. Matters is currently expanding our joyful Black social initiative, NoireSLO, and we are also prioritizing the creation of Black-centered healing spaces and mental health resources.”
As she watched live coverage on NBC and talked to herself while pacing, architecture senior and treasurer of BSU Chloe Wardrick heard the news of the guilty verdict. Her immediate reaction was relief.
Over the past year, her thought process regarding the trial has evolved, she said.
“After seeing viral injustices and murders play out over media outlets, and current injustices and biases being wrongfully forced onto our young activists here in SLO, I have become frustrated and distressed for these innocent members of our community,” she said.
As an officer for Cal Poly’s BSU, Wardrick said hosting and participating in discussions and vigils surrounding the death of Gerorge Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, helped the group bond.
“Talking about and learning more about what was going on, whether that be the trial or other events, has helped us grow closer as a community as we are able to share our own experiences and reflections together,” she said.
Engineering junior and treasurer for Cal Poly’s National Society of Black Engineers Kaila Bishop was surprised by the verdict in that other similar cases have not gone as far.
She also hopes this sets an example of accountability.
“I hope this is a spark of continuing the convictions and accountability because in order for people to follow laws they have to be enforced,” she said.
Bishop said there’s more work to be done to achieve justice.
“Once we lower police brutality and probably the unconscious biases that caused them, then that’s the justice we’re really fighting for,” she said.