A Minnesota jury on Tuesday found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, nearly eleven months after the former police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, killing him and setting off racial justice protests throughout the country.
Oregon activists, racial justice advocates and elected officials reacted to Chauvin’s conviction with feelings ranging from relief at the verdict to frustration that it was ever in question.
Meanwhile, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a 24-hour state of emergency, allowing him to impose a curfew, close city streets and take other extraordinary measures should widespread political unrest develop. No large crowds had gathered by early Tuesday evening.
Here’s how Oregon activists, community leaders and politicians reacted to Chauvin’s conviction:
ACTIVISTS EXPRESS RELIEF, RECOGNIZE NEED FOR GREATER CHANGE
Anxiety was high Tuesday morning for activist Lydia Gray-Holifield, 53, as she awaited the jury’s decision.
“Before the verdict I had all kinds of emotions and thoughts that were in my head and nervousness,” Gray-Holifield said. “After hearing the verdict, I felt like prayers had been answered, and even though he’s not bringing Mr. Floyd back to us, it’s still a move in the right direction.”
Gray-Holifield hopes that Tuesday’s verdict will spur Portland police and police departments nationwide to receive mandatory, regular trainings focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. Part of that training, she said, should be focused on learning the trauma many Black and brown people experience during their interactions with police.
“Not just as a mom but as a Black mom, being pulled over by the police and having to tell your kids that are 12 and 7 and 8 years old, ‘Put your hands in the air and be still. Don’t make any sudden moves.’ … That’s the worst feeling in the world,” Gray-Holifield said. “I want (the police) to understand, as a mother, the severity of what happens to us every time we’re pulled over, or one of our kids are pulled over, or my brother or my uncle. That fear.”
Sharon Gary-Smith, the president of Portland’s NAACP chapter, said she had mixed emotions about the verdict.
“I don’t think any of us could be anything less than joyful that justice was served,” she said. “But the fact that it’s an unusual verdict given the number of killings of Black men, women and children — it’s sort of a bittersweet moment.”
Gary-Smith said the contrast was especially stark when she considered her childhood in Portland and the police bureau’s own cases of use of force — especially against Black residents.
She said she hopes the verdict will lead to Portland-area leaders immediately and strongly scrutinizing qualified immunity for officers who commit acts that would be considered criminal by anyone else.
Demetria Hester, an activist who has been a prominent voice at Portland protests, called the verdict inadequate.
She questioned the phrasing of Chauvin’s charges, namely his second-degree unintentional murder charge.
“I’ve never heard of that,” she told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “When you put your knee on his neck for eight minutes with your hands in your pockets, that’s unintentional? Are we still playing these games?”
Hester said she felt the verdict was an attempt to appease the public while not really holding Chauvin accountable.
“They knew everyone was going to be in uproar if he was found guilty,” she said. “Everyone’s going to go back to comfortability.”
Teressa Raiford, a former mayoral candidate and founder of the nonprofit Don’t Shoot Portland said Tuesday’s verdict was a “step toward accountability” — but noted there is still work to be done.
“It doesn’t mean that our children can’t go out and be murdered like Quanice Hayes was or shot in the park because of a mental health emergency like the person at Lents Park was,” Raiford said, noting that one officer’s conviction does nothing to change the violence entrenched in policing.
Mac Smiff, an activist and independent journalist, praised the verdict but said more work remains.
“Our goal is still not simply to hold a police officer accountable, but really to change the system of public safety all together,” Smiff said. “It’s a step in the right direction. It’s still a historic moment, but it’s just a step.”
A group of nearly 40 Black creatives, activists and community members also penned an open letter, calling for protesters to listen to Black leaders and support them in the way they ask to be supported, rather than a way that’s detrimental to Black people. The letter was published in light of destruction to historically Black neighborhoods and Black-owned businesses during recent protests.
“There is no excuse for the police to murder civilians. This is completely unacceptable and every abuse of power is a stain on our nation, and an obstacle to peace. Every cover up, lie and delay prove to us further that this system is not reformable,” the letter said. “Understand that doing damage to us, our communities, and our resources undoes the work we do.”
ELECTED OFFICIALS RESPOND
Several Black legislators expressed complicated feelings about Chauvin’s conviction.
Rep. Janelle Bynum, a Democrat from Happy Valley, said the trial brought up competing feelings for her about the dangers her own sons face — and her fears that something could happen to them for no reason, at any time.
“Maybe today makes it a little easier to breathe, but I won’t stop praying for them. I’m not sure we’ve really turned a corner,” she said in a statement. “The reason I’m not sure is that the ability to convict lies in the laws that are written and the jury instructions. We can have all the evidence in the world, know that something is wrong, but if the question itself is flawed and the person is poor/Black, nothing even matters. Justice won’t be served.”
Sen. Lew Frederick said the verdict was “appropriate” and that he hopes it “reinforces the changes already underway.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler also praised the verdict.
“Justice was served today. Derek Chauvin was rightfully declared guilty for the murder of George Floyd,” Wheeler said in a statement. “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. That we live in a world where this can be the outcome gives me hoppe about the future and our ability to make the reforms we need in Portland. My colleagues on the City Council and I are committed to the hard work ahead.”
A host of other officials released statements acknowledging the magnitude of the verdict and sending thoughts to the Floyd family. Local law enforcement agencies, including Portland police and the Multnomah and Washington county sheriff’s offices, also issued statements in support of the verdict.
Gray-Holifield said the verdict was a beginning, not an end.
“These people took an oath to protect us, and instead they’re killing us,” Gray-Holifield said. “Yes, we can celebrate this victory, but we also have to stay focused and stay wide awake and down for the cause and continue to fight this battle of equity and diversity and inclusion for Black and brown people. This was a victory for us, but it’s not the end for us.”