UB students celebrated Tuesday after a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of two murder counts and one manslaughter count for his role in the death of George Floyd.
Students and staff gathered in the Student Union anxiously held their breath while Judge Peter Cahill announced the jury’s findings just after 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Then, when Cahill announced the jury’s decision, the assembled crowd let out an audible sigh of relief.
“I think this needed to happen,” Jenna Marcus, a senior political science and history major, said. “It’s not just about George Floyd; it’s about equal justice in this country for Black and Brown Americans and signaling to the police that they will be held accountable for their actions.”
Chauvin faces up to 75 years in prison for the May 2020 killing of Floyd, which 17-year-old bystander Darnella Frazier recorded on her cellphone. The video, which shows Chauvin placing his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, ignited protests across the country and in Buffalo throughout the summer and was the key evidence in the trial.
The trial marks a rare rebuke of police violence. In case after case across the country, police have either not been prosecuted or found not guilty for the deaths of mostly Black or Brown people they have arrested, stopped or searched. Since 2005, of the 140 police officers who have been arrested for murder or manslaughter charges during on-duty shootings, only one-third were convicted on any charges and just seven officers were convicted of murder, according to the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database.
“Chauvin’s conviction is a small victory, part of a much larger battle,” said Tanzeem Mahmood, a junior speech and hearing sciences major, adding that Chauvin’s verdict still won't end the fear Black people face of being locked up everyday. “One contributor to a larger systemic issue being held is not automatic proof of justice or a just system.”
The Minneapolis jury that found Chauvin guilty on all three counts — second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — consisted of seven women and three men, and took just 10 hours to deliver its decision.
Sadequs Saleheen Haque, a senior computer science major, says Chauvin committed a crime, and was rightfully punished.
“The police force keeps our neighborhoods safe and crime-free, and actions of people like Derek Chauvin breaks faith in the police force,” Haque said. “I'm glad he is convicted of his crimes because he is a murderer in every sense of the word.”
President Joe Biden addressed the nation from the White House shortly after the decision and praised the verdict.
“It was a murder in full light of day,” Biden said. “And it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see. For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability.”
Nikita Chawla, a senior biotechnology major, says she applauds the jury’s decision.
“It’s time high action was taken against such people and justice was served,” Chawla said. “Hopefully, this will reduce the incidents of violence and hate crimes against the Black community. [I’m] waiting for more verdicts like this to happen in the future.”
UB President Satish Tripathi released a statement acknowledging the “deep-seated hurt, sadness and anger” students felt watching the trial.
“It is my ardent hope that as we pause and reflect on the verdict, we consider how we can transform this moment in our collective history into a turning point for genuine reconciliation and change,” Tripathi wrote.
Floyd’s death ignited the largest civil rights movement in the U.S. since the 1960s. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, protesters across the country marched in support of people of color, “Black Lives Matter” and to demand police reform. In Buffalo, peaceful protests occurred regularly downtown and were, at times, s met with violent force.
Over the summer, UB Black faculty expressed dissatisfaction with UB’s response to the BLM movement and the paucity of Black professors across the university.
Jonathan Markowski, a freshman law major, says he is heartened by the Chauvin verdict, especially after officers were acquitted in the March 1991 beating of Rodney King.
“I personally feel that although justice has been temporarily served, the work is far from done and we need to take this guilty verdict and use the power behind it so real change can be made in Congress and so we can finally have police reform that has been needed ever since Rodney King was wrongfully assaulted in Los Angeles,” Markowski said.
Rodney Floyd, George’s younger brother, says he felt “tears of joy” following the guilty verdict.
“I’m so emotional that no family in history ever got this far,” Rodney Floyd said after the verdict was announced. “We got a chance to go to trial and took it all the way. This right here is for everyone that has been in this situation.”
Katherine Nicole Schibler, a graduate communication student, called the Chauvin verdict “a profound step toward accountability.”
“Chauvin got the verdict that he deserved and I can only hope that the sentence itself is appropriately severe,” Nicole Schibler said. “Justice can never be done because George Floyd can never be brought back, which is the tragedy we can’t lose sight of. And the fear we experienced that despite there being video evidence? We can’t lose sight of that either. It’s a pivotal time to rebuild justice in our country and have all BIPOC lives be respected. Justice cannot exist where hatred prevails.”
Cahill said Chauvin’s sentence will be announced within eight weeks.
Anushka Sharma and Justin Weiss contributed to the reporting.
Alex Falter is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org