Reactions to the Chauvin Trial Guilty Verdict
On April 20, 2021, the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial issued guilty verdicts on all three counts, including second-degree murder. Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison. Columbia faculty and students weigh in on what this verdict means for future police prosecutions and racial justice in the United States.
'Let us build on this momentum today and (re)commit ourselves to center anti-Black racism.'
The guilty verdict on all three counts in the killing of George Floyd by ex-police officer Derek Chauvin is a welcome outcome that humanizes Black suffering, but it does not reflect true justice. Instead, this historic moment represents an opportunity for us all (Black Indigenous and People of Color along with White-identified people) to be filled with hope and, more importantly, to transform that hope into a renewed sense of purpose in our collective efforts toward racial justice. Let us build on this momentum today and (re)commit ourselves to center anti-Black racism in the places closest to us, where we work, play, and live—this is our call to action.
—Carmela Alcántara, associate professor, School of Social Work
'The carceral system of this country is incapable of dispensing justice.'
Let’s not pretend this is justice.
The carceral system of this country is incapable of dispensing justice. It metes out cruelty, in doses large and small, to the poor, Black and brown, and rarely, to agents of the state itself, when they enforce its will in a manner too grotesque and obvious for the centrists to bear. This officer may go to prison, but his confinement will do little to dissuade the thousands like him from their sworn duties of reminding the masses of Black folk that their citizenship remains conditional - to say nothing of the structures that animate and employ them.
There was never going to be any justice for George Floyd, because George Floyd was robbed of the opportunity to articulate what justice means for him. I hope that he, and the countless other victims of white supremacist state violence, are resting in power, and that we can honor them by working to dismantle the systems that cheated them of their lives, and their chance at justice.
—Cameron Clarke, medical student and university senator, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University
'The verdict was the right decision, but it is not justice.'
I was in a meeting when I received a notification that the jury had reached a verdict. My heart dropped, my face changed, I teared up and I started to stumble over my words. I explained why I was having this reaction and then said, "I'm scared." They offered to end the meeting, but I welcomed the distraction.
When we are calculating the toll of racism on Black bodies, we should own that this too is racism, this is an exposure to racism—waiting for verdicts, expecting the worst, and unable to hold hope for fear of the devastation that will follow. These feelings are not only about the accumulation of racial injustice, particularly as related to police violence, but in this case, and in the opinion of many, the murder or rather the public lynching of George Floyd could not be clearer—the possibility that there is no legal response to an act so depraved, well-documented and witnessed would be absolutely devastating.
Columbia Reflects on the Chauvin Verdict
For me, it will also mean a deep reflection of whether it is possible to produce the science necessary to right the wrongs so deeply engrained into the fabric of our country and whether I can continue my work examining racism while also protecting my sanity, well-being, and soul.
And in spite of the guilty verdict, I remain terrified. The verdict was the right decision, but it is not justice.
— Courtney Cogburn, associate professor, School of Social Work
'The standard for a prosecution of a police murder was raised by this case.'
The prosecution presented an overwhelming case, and the jury was not distracted by the defense efforts to confuse and shift responsibility from Chauvin to George Floyd, to the bystanders, and to the suspect science of some experts. The standard for a prosecution of a police murder was raised by this case. One hopes that prosecutions in future police murders can meet these standards in achieving justice. The bystanders, witnesses to the murder, were heroic in their resistance to the police, and in their commitment to do justice. The lessons of this prosecution are critically important both for justice and also for our role as citizens in the production of justice. There are three police killings each day, we can have some expectation now that these cases can also receive the justice that we saw in this trial.
—Jeffrey Fagan, professor, Columbia Law School
'It is important to acknowledge that today’s verdict is an outlier.'
“Guilty.” In a criminal justice system where both formal and informal institutions are clearly stacked against victims of police violence, I think that it is important to acknowledge that today’s verdict is an outlier. Don’t get me wrong: it is certainly an important and welcome outlier for the memory of George Floyd, for his family and friends, and for the untold many that have been and continue to be subject to police violence. But we need systemic change that recognizes the historical state-led marginalization and repression that many of our communities experience every day.
—Eduardo Moncada, assistant professor of political science, Barnard College, Columbia University
'Yes, I'm relieved at the verdict, but I am NOT satisfied with our system of justice.'
I certainly felt relief at hearing the verdict, but that was only after feeling anxiety all day, and throughout the trial. This murder should NEVER have happened, and that's what makes me angry about this whole thing.
George Floyd committed a minor offense that turned into a fatal tragedy. Why? The inability of the Officers involved to make the right judgement about HOW to treat him and his offense in the right context and procedure; the fear they clearly had of this Black man, as Black men are often unreasonably feared by white police officers; and the lack of fear by the Officers of any punishment by our system of justice. These are the issues that need to be "put on trial" all across America.
Yes, I'm relieved at the verdict, but I am NOT satisfied with our system of justice. This case is almost the perfect exception to a long line of bad outcomes. The work continues. George Floyd should not be dead, and there is no verdict that can return his life. He paid the ultimate price which may enable some others to live.
—Michael Nutter, professor, School of International and Public Affairs
This column is editorially independent of Columbia News.