Cleveland Activists: 'Relieved,' But Much Work To Do After Chauvin Verdict

A group of about 50 gathered in Cleveland's Public Square ahead of the guilty verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Black Lives Matter Cleveland had planned a 5 p.m. event regardless of the jury’s verdict.
A group of about 50 gathered in Cleveland's Public Square ahead of the guilty verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Black Lives Matter Cleveland had planned a 5 p.m. event regardless of the jury’s verdict. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

Updated: 9:39 p.m., Tuesday, April 20, 2021

‘Relief’ was the most repeated word among Cleveland activists and community organizers Tuesday evening after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all the counts he faced in the death of George Floyd.

Danielle Sydnor, head of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP said she was concerned while waiting for the verdicts to be read and relieved when the guilty verdict was announced.

“We got a small piece of victory in this fight for social justice, a life was still taken unnecessarily. George Floyd deserved to live to have his day in court,” Syndor said. “[Police] have to know that these types of actions will go checked, they will no longer go unchecked, which is what we have seen in the past is that law enforcement did not have to be concerned about their actions because they did not think there would be consequences. Well, today we say that citizens are willing to hold law enforcement accountable.”

Chauvin was found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter and could spend decades in prison. Floyd died after Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds as Floyd lay face down, hands cuffed behind his back.

"He did what he did on purpose, and it killed George Floyd," prosecutor Steve Schleicher argued during the trial.

Syndor said police officers are not the only ones to whom Tuesday’s news should speak: The guilty verdicts also sends a message to prosecutors around the country.

“I think that this case demonstrated that if a prosecutor is willing to do the work, you can prepare and present a case that citizens will be able to bring justice to victims of police violence,” she said.

Josiah Quarles of activist group Black Spring Cleveland heard about the verdict on his way to a demonstration at Public Square. Leading up to the guilty verdict, Quarles said he was nervous but mostly relieved after he heard it – “relieved that at least some modicum of accountability has been had in this case and some precedent has been set,” he said. “It’s not often that we get guilty verdicts in these cases.”

A crowd of about 50 gathered Downtown in Public Square Tuesday evening, Quarles among them. Black Lives Matter Cleveland had planned a 5 p.m. event regardless of the jury’s verdict, and the mood was joyful but subdued.

Aisia Jones speaks to a small crowd at Public Square in Downtown Cleveland after the verdict was read.

Aisia Jones speaks to a small crowd at Public Square in Downtown Cleveland after the Chauvin verdicts were read Tuesday evening. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

Black Lives Matter Cleveland co-founder Kareem Henton and other local activists addressed reporters and the small crowd at the square.

“We wouldn’t be having this particular moment if folks didn’t show up on the streets,” Henton said. “We wouldn’t have this particular moment if people didn’t decide to stop and try and intervene. We would not be having this moment if people did not videotape, or video, what happened to George Floyd in his last moments.”

LaTonya Goldsby, president of Cleveland’s Black Lives Matter chapter, told ideastream at Public Square she felt “a little at ease” with the verdict, since she didn’t know what outcome to expect. The case showed the importance of video in countering an officer’s word in court, she said.

“It’s going to take the people, people power, to be able to stop these incidents, to be able to continually record these officers when they violate police policies, or when they murder people,” she said.

But Quarles and other Cleveland activists agreed that while this end to the Chauvin trial means justice for Floyd, it doesn’t mean an end to their work.

“I’d like to see the transit police removed and replaced with civilian ambassadors,” Quarles said. “I’d like to see cops out of the schools. I’d like to see investment in our communities. I’d like to see true engagement with the public.”

Pastor Terrance Curtain of the Generation Center in Collinwood had subdued moment of celebration after the verdict was read, but no joy.

“The work is not done,” Curtain said. “I’m certainly glad there was justice in this case. But it just reminds me of all the other times when there has not been justice and really, the root of the problem, the root has yet to be salved.”

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