JUSTICE

Leaders, community activists react to guilty verdict in death of George Floyd

Apr 20, 2021, 6:24 PM | Updated: Apr 21, 2021, 11:05 am
george floyd verdict reaction...
FILE: A group of artists paint a mural of George Floyd on the wall outside of Cup Foods, where Floyd was killed in police custody, on May 28, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo credit: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images North America/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah state and local community leaders and activists are reacting to word of the guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minnesota. 

Jurors found Chauvin, a former Minnesota police officer, guilty on all three charges brought against him. Floyd died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes. 

A jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter Tuesday afternoon. When asked by Judge Peter Cahill if jurors stood by their verdict, all twelve members responded “yes.” 

 

Widespread impact

The death of George Floyd in May 2020 sparked protests across the world, including some throughout Utah. Demonstrators marched the streets, calling for justice, following video footage of Floyd pleading “I can’t breathe” while under Chauvin’s knee. They weren’t just marching for justice, but political leaders, activists, and community members pushed for systematic change, including examination of police policies, specifically police use of force. 

Once the guilty verdict was read, residents around the nation erupted in celebration. Some began crying, others began chatting. And while some people called Chauvin’s guilty charge a positive step toward holding police accountable for their actions, many also stated more needs to be done

 

Soon after Cahill announced the verdict, Utah leaders and community activists began voicing their thoughts on the decision, and reflected on the life of George Floyd. 

Black Lives Matter Utah founder: ‘We need police accountability and transparency’ 

The guilty verdict in the death of George Floyd struck Black Lives Matter Utah founder Lex Scott as a historic moment. 

“We are beyond pleased,” Scott told KSL NewsRadio. “It’s surreal. It’s about time.” 

(BLM supporters arriving at the mural of George Floyd, after marching from the SLCPD headquarters. Photo: Paul Nelson)

Scott called it a “weird” rally at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building.  She says they’re used to protesting out of anger, not gathering to celebrate.  A few hundred supporters marched from police headquarters to George Floyd’s mural at the corner of 800 South 300 West.

Scott says they’re still pushing for the passage of the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act in Washington, while pushing for more transparency and accountability among law enforcement agencies in Utah.

“The whole movement can’t be based on the results of one case,” according to Scott.

She says she had a hard time believing Chauvin found guilty on all three counts against him.

“[I thought] no way.  No way.  Guilty on all counts?” she says.  “It knocks the wind out of you.”

Verdict in George Floyd case needs to go beyond color

Scott made her point clear: she doesn’t want to focus on the spotlight on relations between cops and people of color. Instead, she’d rather highlight the lack of transparency and accountability within law enforcement agencies.  

“We see this as a systemic issue in which we need police accountability and transparency,” Scott said.

And while Chauvin’s guilty verdict might send a message to police to de-escalate a situation rather than turn to lethal use of force, Scott believes the root cause of the problem is still prevalent. 

“We need laws and policies in place that check lethal force and independent oversight of policing,” noted Scott. 

As a start to addressing the issue of policing, Scott said Utah and the nation need more police reform bills. 

“We need our lethal force policies and laws strengthened,” Scott recommended. “We need body cam footage regulations that force the release of body cam footage.”

In honor of the moment, the organization planned what Scott called “a celebration of George Ford’s life, a celebration of the conviction and a time for us to come together to celebrate this historic moment,” at the police headquarters in Salt Lake City. 

Salt Lake City’s Commission on Racial Equality on Policing: ‘It’s not over’ 

The Commission on Racial Equality on Policing in Salt Lake City was created after George Floyd’s death with the hopes of preventing tragic events like that from happening here. Commission member Carol Shifflett says she rejoiced at hearing the verdict.

“I got down on my knees and I thanked God. I said, ‘thanks be to God that this happened,’ but it’s not over,” said Shifflett.  “I think about all of the families who didn’t get justice.”

Other commission members, like Darlene McDonald, say they will keep making recommendations to police. For instance, they’re pushing for police training to have more input from community members, plus better training on mental health issues. However, she’s just happy jurors reached the verdict they did.

“There must be justice, and this is step one in that,” McDonald added. “We have a lot of work and a long way yet to go, but we’re going to hold on today.”

Mayor Wilson: ‘There needs to be accountability’ 

“I think if there was ever a case a jury to convict, it was this one,” Salt Lake County Jenny Wilson told KSL NewsRadio. 

Wilson acknowledged many people have died at the hands of law enforcement, but emphasized the impact of George Floyd’s death. 

“But this one [police use of force case] was especially moving to see the public calling for support on the sidelines, as the officer,  left his knee on George Floyd’s,” stated Wilson. 

Wilson said she watched the majority of the trial, and the testimonies presented in court. Accounts from those such as emergency responders witnessing Floyd lose consciousness, asking if they could help, but being ignored by responding officers, resonated with her. 

“And as a resident of this community, and resident of the United States, my heart was broken watching the intensity of this horrific act,” said Wilson.

“I’m pleased at the result. There needs to be accountability,” she added. 

Furthermore, Wilson stated the work to make America more equitable remains. 

“But I think also there’s a need to look at our institutions. We need to sort of check our own biases, we all have them,” said Wilson. 

Utah GOP react to verdict 

Congressman Burgess Owens, R-Utah, applauded the guilty verdict and called the killing of George Floyd “senseless” in a tweet Tuesday.

 

The first Black person elected to Congress from Utah, former Rep. Mia Love, also a Republican, said the verdict in the case amounts to justice served, though at a somber cost.

 

Prior to the verdict, Congressman John Curtis, R-Utah, declared the death of Floyd a start to critical conversations regarding equity. 

“It’s clear to me that crucial conversations that started with George Floyd’s death have only just begun and regardless of the outcome of the trial, there’s work to do ahead,” said Curtis. 

“The trial has deepened my commitment to listen better and try harder to be a unifying voice in a too often divisive world,” Curtis added.  

Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, along with Representatives Blake Moore and Chris Stewart, also Republicans, have not made public comments on the verdict. 

Utah’s Quad Caucus ‘encouraged’ by George Floyd verdict 

In a joint statement Tuesday, seven Utah Democrats stated the guilty verdict will not bring George Floyd back, but they find themselves encouraged by the decision. 

The Quad Caucus consists of State Senators Luz Escamilla and Jani Iwamoto, and State Representatives Karen Kwan, Sandra Hollins, Angela Romero, Mark Wheatley and Ashlee Matthews, all Democrats. 

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Leaders, community activists react to guilty verdict in death of George Floyd