Across Boston on Tuesday, community leaders and social justice advocates celebrated the swift and sweeping conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd, what they called a poignant moment of justice in a history of racist policing that for too long has plagued the country’s court system.
At City Hall Plaza and across Boston’s neighborhoods, the verdict triggered a sense of elation, even as businesses in the Back Bay boarded up their storefronts in preparation for the possibility that a not guilty verdict would trigger protests. Governor Charlie Baker also made the National Guard available to communities across the state, in the case of unruly gatherings.
But Boston largely saw celebrations Tuesday evening, a collective sense of relief that community demands for police accountability that accelerated last year — after Chauvin was seen in horrendous cellphone video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes — were finally being heard.
“What a huge sigh of relief,” said Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of King Boston, the foundation established to build a monument honoring Martin Luther King Jr. in Boston.
He said the verdict was “not only about Derek Chauvin,” but it was a pushback against white supremacy and against the racist tropes that played out in the trial, that Floyd was somehow at fault for his own death.
“The outcome is proof that there’s a sea change in what’s acceptable and not acceptable from law enforcement and institutions practicing racism,” Jeffries said. The movement for accountability, he said, is “still happening, it’s not going to be immediate. But the fact that we can respond in this way shows some promise and light there.”
Chauvin, 45, a police officer for nearly two decades, was convicted of all three counts he faced, including second-degree murder, which carries a punishment of up to 40 years in prison. To reach that verdict, the jurors — six white and six of multiracial backgrounds — found that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death, and that his actions were intentional, even while he should have known his use of force was unreasonable.
The jury gathered for roughly one full day of deliberations before reaching its decision.
And still, in the weeks leading up to Tuesday, as the country watched on national television as the accusations were laid out in the courtroom, the outcome of the case remained unpredictable, an unfortunate reality that justice for victims of police violence — too often unarmed Black men — has historically been unreachable.
Tuesday’s verdict was handed out nearly three decades after a Los Angeles jury acquitted police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, and it came a week after another unarmed Black man, Daunte Wright, was shot and killed by a police officer in a suburb just outside of Minneapolis. In that case, the officer, Kimberly Ann Potter, who said she intended to use a Taser when she accidentally shot Wright, was charged with manslaughter.
Jeffries said incidents like Wright’s death are reminders that “there’s still work to do.”
“It’s like an asterisk on the success,” he said.
Denella Clark, president of the Boston Arts Academy Foundation, and the first Black chairwoman of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, said the verdict will send a strong message that police officers — finally — will be held accountable for their actions. But, she added, the struggle for justice continues, and Chauvin must also face a severe sentence that matches the severity of the crime.
“What I really hope is that this will make people in law enforcement think before they put a knee on someone’s neck,” said Clark, a mother of two, including an adult son she worries for, if he’s ever stopped by police.
She said the verdict should also send a message to law enforcement that, “[Chauvin’s] not a good cop, and it’s good to get rid of him, it’s good to hold him accountable.”
Within hours of the verdict, the political establishment in Massachusetts reacted with wide praise, calling it an important step toward reform. Last year, the Legislature passed sweeping police reform laws in response to Floyd’s death, and officials in Boston created the city’s first independent police watchdog office. Several candidates for Boston mayor and City Council released statements Tuesday calling for greater transparency and accountability in policing.
At a news conference at City Hall, Acting Mayor Kim Janey commended the jurors and prosecutors in the case and said she was grateful for a guilty verdict, adding that work in American cities to advance racial justice continues.
“George Floyd’s name now represents the urgency of racial reckoning and police reform across our country,” said Janey, adding that, “As the first Black mayor and the first woman mayor of the city of Boston, I continue to pray for the family of George Floyd.”
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins called the verdict “a victory.’'
“We need to end police brutality and racial injustice because the stakes are literally life and death,” Rollins said.
Baker, who pushed for the statewide reforms, said the verdict aims to bring justice to Chauvin and also the Floyd family.
“Nothing can reverse the pain, suffering, and agony of George Floyd’s family and friends, but this decision does make clear that Officer Chauvin was not above the law,” Baker said.
The Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston said the sweeping verdict “is the first step towards rebuilding trust in communities of color that disproportionally bear the consequences of police violence without a consistent or adequate legal response.”
And throughout the city, residents who had watched the trial on their own, in hopes for justice, expressed similar elation.
On Newbury Street, where a few businesses boarded up their storefronts, Jasmina Outar was both shocked and relieved when she heard the guilty verdict.
“I thought they were just going to let him off like they’ve done to everybody else, so I’m very happy that he’s guilty on all three charges,” she said. Though she feels like she can now “breathe a little bit” easier, she remains wary. Outar said that Chauvin is “just one officer found guilty out of the millions that weren’t.”
This verdict, though, is “a step in the right direction,” she added.
In Nubian Square, Will Rodriguez, 41, said he expected the jury to find Chauvin guilty on only one of the three charges.
“Justice comes to those who deserve it,” he said.
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia and on Instagram @miltonvalencia617. Danny McDonald can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.