Chauvin Convicted, but the Struggle for Justice and Black Lives Continues

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George Floyd's face is everywhere after his grisly death launched a protest movement including murals, such as this one in Olympia, across the world. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction for murdering George Floyd led many to breath a sigh of relief. It was the first time a White police officer had been convicted of murder in Minnesota, and all it took to get that conviction was a nine-minute video depicting the state-sanctioned execution in gruesome detail, sparking the largest wave of protects in United States history.

But rather than getting complacent, many leaders stressed that the work continues and urged police department and centrist politicians to look within rather than claiming catharsis or even progress had been made by a violent death. Shaun Scott, the former Seattle City Council candidate who is now campaign coordinator for Nikkita Oliver’s mayoral campaign, noted that Charleena Lyles’ killing by two Seattle police officers had been ruled valid and by the book. Lyles was shot repeatedly in the back in front of her kids while having a mental health crisis.

Scott’s comment came in response to the Seattle Police Department press release talking about the strides they had made: “The Seattle Police Department (SPD) knows that Mr. Floyd’s murder was a watershed moment for this country. The eyes of the nation saw in horrible detail what so many have been fighting to change. It was soul crushing. From that pain, though, real change has begun.”

After a summer of beating up and gassing protesters and the entire swath of Capitol Hill, SPD also highlighted its new and improved crowd control and de-escalation policy, hinting it may stop targeting journalists, medics, and legal observers with tear gas, blast balls, and other projectiles and issue a warning before deploying “less lethal” tools. That revelation is a little late for the protesters still bearing the scars and trauma of the agency’s previous aggressive tear gas and blast ball approach.

Mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston, who participated in and reported on protests last summer, pointed out how SPD had fallen short and been forced to take some accountability by the protests they cracked down on.

“As others begin making demands of protesters in an effort to quell theoretical violence, we call on the Seattle Police Department to honor their own self-reported bans on excessive force and protest policies,” Houston said in a statement. “The community expects officers to uphold their oath to protect and serve all Seattleites — including protesters. I challenge them to not demonstrate the very thing these protests are in response to.”

Nationwide, cases of police killings and brutality have continued unabated even with the public eye now focused on police violence. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda noted this trend and the systemic issue in her statement after the verdict.

“Today cannot be about one officer nor about one police department,” Mosqueda said. “Over the course of the Derek Chauvin trial, since testimony began on March 29, at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement nationwide, with Black and Latino people representing more than half of the dead. As of Saturday, the average was more than three killings a day. Stories like 20 year old Daunte Wright or 13 year Adam Toledo have ripped open our hearts all over again. This is a systemic issue.”

Not every case captures public attention and leads to such scrutiny — which tends to contribute to a pattern of police getting away with murder and manslaughter and of targeting Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities.

“While Chauvin’s excessive force on Mr. Floyd became a public spectacle through viral video, last summer’s protests and the Movement for Black Lives, it is unique only in its charges,” Grant added. “Countless cases preceded Mr. Floyd’s murder, and numerous incidents of police violence, racial bias, and unnecessary use of force have occurred since. There are still countless cases without trials and public conversation, and without mainstream media and public figures scrutinizing the racist, deranged police violence happening across this country.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s statement on the verdict concluded with the suggestion that protests may threaten public safety: “As always, 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.”

Council President M. Lorena González, who is also running for mayor, balanced her call for peace from protesters with one directed at SPD.

“As our community members begin to process and react to this conviction, I urge us all to peacefully demonstrate and to refrain from violence and destruction.” González said in a statement. “Likewise, it is my expectation that the Seattle Police Department will refrain from indiscriminate and unnecessary use of force, will establish clear channels of communication with the members of the Seattle City Council and members of the general public, and work to ensure that residents have the opportunity to safely exercise their First Amendment rights.”

Mayor Durkan was ready to condemn the recent killing of Duante Wright in Minnesota, but has rarely if ever spoken out against specific killings by her own police force, including relatively recent killings of Terry Caver and Shawn Fuhr, which the City has kept quiet. Rather than owning up to SPD’s mistakes, Durkan championed her “historic investments” in Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities in her statement, which are promised through a task force hand-picked her and without a dedicated ongoing funding source.

“Our country must work to ensure true justice and access to education, employment, healthcare and prosperity. Every family deserves to build generational opportunity instead of intergenerational trauma or despair,” Durkan said. “We have made some systemic changes in Seattle including new alternatives in policing and historic investments in Black, Indigenous and people of color communities. That work will continue.”

Organizers claimed the victory the conviction confers, while pointing onward and stressing the need to keep the pressure on dismantling the system of police violence.

“The small glimpses of accountability we see are the outcomes of those organizing for Black Lives,” Houston continued. “Organizers are owed credit for recent bans on abusive police tactics; police do not take these steps on their own. It was the community that made those changes happen, and we only see true justice so long as we continue these community-led efforts. This is only the beginning; the work continues.”

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.