For Many Brooklynites, Chauvin Conviction Brings Relief and Muted Optimism

For Many Brooklynites, Chauvin Conviction Brings Relief and Muted Optimism
Brooklynites gathered outside the Barclays Center after Derek Chauvin’s conviction on Tuesday, April 20th. (Image: Adrian Childress)

Within minutes of a Minnesota jury’s pronouncement that police officer Derek Chauvin was guilty of murdering George Floyd, reactions from Brookynites spilled out across social media and the borough’s streets.

For many in the borough and across the city, the rare conviction of a police officer who used deadly force was cause for a collective exhale and prompted a sense of relief that accountability had been meted out. But many also saw the decision as just a small step toward a much longer fight for police reform.

Shortly after the conviction was announced, Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that “justice was served” and called the ruling “the beginning, as we continue to create real reforms in policing and make a safer country for all Americans.”

But he almost immediately came under heavy criticism from those who blamed him for the NYPD’s heavy-handed tactics in responding to last summer’s protests after Floyd’s murder.

“Remember when you let cops beat up protesters,” wrote the Brooklyn author Rebecca Fishbein, in one representative response.

Chauvin was recorded holding his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during a traffic stop last May. Floyd died of injuries caused by the interaction, prompting outrage and protests in New York and around the world. On Tuesday, Chauvin was charged with second and third-dgree murder as well as manslaughter; he faces up to 40 years in prison for the top charge.

Residents, activists and other elected officials gathered at various spots throughout the borough in reaction to the ruling. At least 200 people attended a rally at the Barclays Center on Tuesday night, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Jumaane Williams speaking to the crowd outside Barclays Center on Tuesday night. (Image: Adrian Childress)

“I’m glad to share that I’m a little bit relieved,” Williams told the crowd, “but it is hard for me to celebrate.”

“I’m reluctant to call it justice, because I’m not sure it’s justice,” he continued. “But at least we had a little bit of accountability that we haven’t seen in such a very, very long time.”

Many attendees at the rally expressed similar sentiments. Robert Cuffy, a 35-year-old activist from East New York, told Bklyner “the verdict we got today is only a result of the mass struggle that happened last year.”

“If it took that much just to convict this one cop, while there’s still no justice for Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and everyone else, then we have to keep fighting for the results we want.”

Other elected officials and candidates who spoke at the Barclays Center included Council Member Brad Lander, who is running for comptroller, and mayoral candidate Dianne Morales, who alone among the field’s frontrunners has called to remove $3 billion from the NYPD’s budget and who received a warm reaction from the crowd.

“Justice will come when we transform the system that harms us,” she said, “and when we in fact provide for the true safety of our community by investing in resources, programs and services that for so long our community has been denied.”

Attendees at a rally outside Barclays Center on Tuesday, April 20th. (Image: Adrian Childress)

Other mayoral candidates at the event included former Obama and Bloomberg staffer Shaun Donavan as well as Comptroller Scott Stringer, who told NY1 he was at the event “to listen.”

Activist groups also made their presence felt, including groups like the Democratic Socialists of America and the Freedom Socialist Party. Members of the latter group held signs calling on the city to pass the Community Power Act, a bill sponsored by Council Member Inez Barron that would give more disciplinary power to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates police misconduct claims, and allow the public to elect its members.

The City Council approved a series of policing-related reforms late last month, including measures that make it easier to sue cops for improper searches and use of excessive force. But many of the city’s political leaders have also backed away from the “defund the police” language that was common last summer, in part because of rising crime.

Attendees at a rally outside Barclays Center on Tuesday, April 20th. (Image: Billy Richling)

Those political fights will undoubtedly continue in the coming months, with the city’s budget deadline as well as the Democratic primary election coming up in June. In the meantime, many Black New Yorkers will continue to regard the police with a deep sense of unease, even as Chauvin’s conviction provides a small measure of emotional relief.

“I don’t feel like I would do anything I want without a cop saying something to me,” said Calvin Martin, a 17-year-old from Downtown Brooklyn who arrived to the protest on his bike. “I’m still scared.”