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Brown, Providence communities react to Chauvin conviction

Many say that conviction is step in right direction, though much more work remains

Following the murder conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, members of the Brown and Providence communities shared their reactions to the verdict. Chauvin was convicted last Tuesday of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the May 25, 2020 killing of George Floyd — a Black man whose murder launched months of protests against systemic racism and police brutality across the nation.

Many expressed relief over the guilty verdict but emphasized that more needed to be done.

Amiri Nash ’24 told The Herald he felt shock and conflicting emotions after the verdict was released. “It’s a bit of a complicated feeling,” he said. “On one hand, I’m so happy that he didn’t walk free, but on the other hand, I don’t think that ultimately this is the utmost form of justice that the Floyd family could receive. … There’s so much more work that needs to be done.”

Nash also expressed concern over the risk of complacency following the verdict, noting that there are deeper systemic issues that must be addressed.

“I think that people could get a false sense of justice that is not permanent, or a false notion that the system isn’t broken,” he added. On the other hand, he said, the conviction could “propel people who do look beyond the surface to keep doing the work that needs to be done in terms of seeking real justice and reallocating the funds that are given to police departments back into communities to support lower-income people.”

Harrison Tuttle, executive director of the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC, said that real justice means an end to police killings. “Justice looks very different, in my eyes, compared to what current justice looks like. For me, justice is George Floyd being alive, and we must think of a solution to systemic problems that result in Black people dying in the streets. … Derek Chauvin gets to live and see his family, and George Floyd doesn’t have that,” he said.

“This is obviously the best result that the American criminal justice system can provide,” he said, but he emphasized that deep systemic issues remain and that not enough has been done to actually prevent police killings. 

He brought up the case of Ma’Khia Bryant, the Black teenager who was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio shortly after the verdict was read. “It’s just nonstop,” he said. One potential path toward progress, Tuttle said, is reallocating money from police departments to community aid, such as mental health and poverty relief services.

Both Nash and Tuttle said that lack of consequences following the killings of other Black people, especially Trayvon Martin, influenced their low expectations for the verdict.

Haley Joyce ’23.5, community engagement chair for the Brown University Black Pre-Law Association, reiterated the sense of surprise voiced by Nash and Tuttle. “I almost felt numb. I think that logically it seems so odd to be so happy and appreciative of the justice system working in the way that it should. … In reality, if it wasn’t for the videos and the protests and the social uprising that came in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, would this have been the verdict?”

Joyce said that although she was happy Chauvin was held accountable, she felt a sense of exhaustion shared by many Black Americans. “We found out the verdict and then we heard about another killing of a Black female. It’s never-ending,” she said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about how it seems as though there’s never any relaxation or break or calmness for Black people … But of course I am happy and thankful for accountability.”

As for the future, Joyce said she hoped that the verdict could be a catalyst for systemic change. “Clearly, reform has not been enough. There needs to be something bigger,” she said. “I’m hoping that that is something that can be taken away from that verdict — that there needs to be institutional change that no longer looks like just bias training and other types of methods. We’ve been doing that for so long, and it’s clearly still not working.”

Ellis Clark ’23, incoming president of the Brown College Democrats, said he felt relief upon hearing the verdict, after initially bracing himself for disappointment. “We’ve seen so many times where justice just has not been served,” he said. “The way that the jury was so fast in its deliberation made me think, ‘Well, maybe something will come out of this.’ It’s really embarrassing, in a way, that we all had to wait with bated breath for a guilty verdict for something that we all saw,” he added.

Clark called the verdict a “turning point” for the Black Lives Matter movement, and also said that much more needs to be done. “I hope that people don’t hide behind the jury’s guilty verdict — a correct verdict, as we see it — as the answer to all of the ills that Black Lives Matter has been trying to solve and trying to bring attention to.”

A representative from the Brown College Republicans expressed the organization’s support for the outcome of the trial. “We believe that the equal application of the law is central to our judicial system and ongoing and necessary criminal justice reform,” Secretary Benjamin Eden ’24 wrote in a statement to The Herald. “We hope to be part of a peaceful and bipartisan conversation that works toward holding bad actors accountable while supporting the important work done in all communities by the police and striving for a criminal justice system that holds all people as equals under the law.”

Brown administrators and Rhode Island elected officials also commented on the verdict. In a April 20 statement to the Brown community, President Christina Paxson P’19 wrote that she felt “deep, overwhelming relief” and “cautious optimism for the seeds of lasting change” following the verdict. She added that much more work remains to be done, including at the University.

The University’s Task Force on Anti-Black Racism, Paxson wrote, will release its recommendations toward the start of the summer, and the Brown community will continue conversations about the Department of Public Safety and its role in the “safety and security of our campus” amid the search for a new vice president of campus safety.

The Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life also hosted a community gathering following the conviction to provide the Brown community “an opportunity to reflect on issues of equity and justice.”

David Cicilline ’83, the U.S. representative for Rhode Island’s First Congressional District, wrote in a tweet, “Justice has been served. … We have a lot of work to do in changing the ways police interact with those they are sworn to protect.”

Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos echoed this sentiment in a Tuesday press release. “While today’s verdict will never bring back George Floyd, whose life was tragically taken, it reaffirms a fundamental tenant (sic) of our country — that no one is above the law,” they wrote. “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.”



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