PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island leaders are reacting Tuesday to news that Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, has been convicted on all counts in the death of George Floyd.
“While today’s verdict will never bring back George Floyd, whose life was tragically taken, it reaffirms a fundamental tenet of our country — that no one is above the law,” Governor Dan McKee and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos said in a joint statement. “Our thoughts are with the Floyd family and the people of Minnesota. Justice was served today, but we have a lot of work to do to put a stop to police brutality, root out systemic racism, and build a more equitable state and nation.”
Chauvin was convicted in a Minnesota state court on second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges in Floyd’s May 2020 death. Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck as he lay handcuffed for more than nine minutes, prosecutors said, killing him.
The incident sparked worldwide protests over police brutality and racism. Chauvin is white, and Floyd was Black.
Less than an hour after the the verdict was read, two speakers sitting at a folding table projected tunes by artists like The Notorious B.I.G. on the steps of the Rhode Island State House in Providence while a crowd of more than 60 gathered in a pre-planned rally. They demanded marijuana justice, the end of racial profiling, and sweeping policy changes.
They carried signs with bright green marijuana leaves, handed out snack bags of Frito-Lays chips, and spoke into a microphone, demanding the full legalization of cannabis. And while they were there for the 4/20 holiday, they celebrated the guilty verdicts in the Chauvin case.
Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC’s executive director, Harrison Tuttle, told a Globe reporter that the verdict was “the best possible outcome,” but that fighting for change doesn’t end with Chauvin.
“Real justice would mean that George Floyd would be going back home to his family,” said Tuttle.
He said Rhode Islanders needed to “look in the mirror,” and realize they play a larger role in the “country’s sickness and structural racism.”
“It’s not enough to put people on diversity boards so they can talk about it. We need real, tangible actions,” said Tuttle. “And that can’t happen every four years when you’re looking for our votes. That comes by benefiting off of this momentum.”
No verdict will ease the pain of the Floyd family, but a guilty verdict is a step in the right direction. We have a long way to go before the US justice system comes close to something we can call ‘justice.’ ... - @blmripac pic.twitter.com/RIpWEhkf3f— Black Lives Matter RI PAC (@blmripac) April 20, 2021
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline said in a Tweet: “Justice has been served. Although there is nothing that can ever fully heal the pain felt by the Floyd family today, I hope that today’s verdict brings some measure of relief. We have a lot of work to do in changing the ways police interact with those they are sworn to protect.”
Justice has been served.— David Cicilline (@davidcicilline) April 20, 2021
Although there is nothing that can ever fully heal the pain felt by the Floyd family today, I hope that today’s verdict brings some measure of relief.
We have a lot of work to do in changing the ways police interact with those they are sworn to protect.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said in a written statement: “The jury has confirmed what millions had witnessed — the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by a police officer who was sworn to protect him. While I hope this verdict gives the Floyd family some peace, justice will not bring George back. We cannot rest until we address the centuries of racial injustices and social inequities that brought us to this moment. Tonight, we will again mourn the loss of George Floyd and so many others and tomorrow we will recommit to this work so that we do not lose another person to racial violence.”
But to the Providence Youth Student Movement, an activist group working in the Southeast Asian community, Elorza’s statement was lacking one crucial detail: Will he defund the police? (It’s a term Elorza has said he does not use.)
So you defunding the police or nah .@Jorge_Elorza ? https://t.co/IiBaOBCMt7— Providence Youth Student Movement - PrYSM (@PrYSMFam) April 20, 2021
“The fight still continues,” PrYSM wrote on Twitter. “Defund police. Invest in Black communities. Abolish the police.”
K. Joseph Shekarchi, the speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, mentioned in his statement reforming a law that critics say shields bad cops in Rhode Island.
“I am happy that justice was served,” Shekarchi said. “Reform of the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights is a priority of many members of the House. Several different bills have been heard recently by the House Judiciary Committee and they will go through the normal legislative process.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin called Tuesday’s verdict “a step toward justice.”
“Our nation is still in the early stages of reckoning with the legacy of racism and bigotry still present across the country,” he said in a statement. “It is my hope that today’s decision is a step toward justice and healing for all Americans. Floyd’s life mattered, and I’m heartened the jury agreed.”
Sidney Wordell, the executive director of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, and association President Richard Ramsay, said “Justice was served this afternoon” and the jury “rightly convicted Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd nearly a year ago.”
“Our thoughts are with the Floyd family. The verdict is a sign that there is accountability for those who take the life of another, and an affirmation that Black Lives Matter,” they said in a joint statement. “On behalf of every police chief in Rhode Island, we wish to reiterate that we stand with Black Americans today and every day. Every decent man and woman who wears a badge is committed to doing the essential work of ensuring equity in policing and confronting systemic racism that has plagued our nation for too long.”
Earlier Tuesday, Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. and Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré, the Commissioner of Public Safety for the City of Providence, said that they were preparing for residents to react to the verdict and were encouraging peaceful protests.
After the verdict was delivered, Pare called for police reform, saying that police “have a lot of work to do in restoring that trust with our community, particularly with the African American community.”
“The justice system held Chauvin criminally responsible for his despicable behavior and excessive use of force. The profession of policing is responsible for treating everyone with respect and dignity which did not occur. George Floyd died because of police brutality,” Paré said in a statement. “This should never happen in America. Police leadership in this Country need to drive the necessary changes so the citizens that we serve believe and trust in our mission to protect and serve.”
Attorney General Peter Neronha congratulated Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and his team, and also called for police reform in his statement. “The killing of George Floyd by police last summer was a heartbreaking loss for his family and resulted in pain and anger across the nation,” he wrote. “The ensuing conversations and protests concerning our criminal justice system were raw and necessary, as we begin to address flaws in and reforms to that system.”
U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse each issued a statement on the verdict Tuesday.
“I think every American was rightfully angered by that video of George Floyd being brutally, unjustly killed by someone who was supposed to uphold the law and instead grossly abused their power,” Reed said. “This was a just, unanimous verdict reached by a jury that carefully examined the evidence, followed the law, and reached its own conclusion. Nothing can bring George Floyd back, but we as a nation must move forward together. There is more work to be done.”
“The images of George Floyd’s death shocked our collective conscience, and the case against Mr. Chauvin was overwhelming. This is the right decision,” Whitehouse said. “Today’s verdict is only a first step toward full justice for George Floyd. We have much work to do to deliver on our Constitution’s promise of equal protection under law. I hope this trial opens a path for people of good will in law enforcement and Black and Brown communities to reach agreement on lasting reform.”
Brian Amaral can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44. Alexa Gagosz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.